City, WSF near boatyard deal

A new accord could restore a haul-out facility

to Eagle Harbor.,/i>

A glimmer of hope was sighted on the horizon last week, signaling the possible return of a public boatyard to Eagle Harbor.

“There are still some critical issues to resolve, but this past week, I believe we’ve turned the corner,” Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said Monday.

City staff and Washington State Ferries officials reached a “conceptual agreement on a strategy for designing” a boat haul-out facility on just over an acre of land presently occupied by WSF’s Eagle Harbor maintenance yard, Kordonowy said.

The city’s Harbor Commission heralded the tentative agreement as a rare step forward after decades of wrangling with WSF over reestablishing a haul-out facility on land WSF condemned years ago.

“The ferry system put a lot of energy into this – a lot more than I expected they would,” commission member Bob Schoonmaker said.

The commission took part in negotiations with WSF, listing key requirements for a public-use boatyard. The facility would need an area to haul boats in from the water, a place to store impounded vessels and room to install fueling equipment.

Ferry officials agreed – as long as it could all fit in an area that amounts to just over 1 acre, commission members said.

“We said we could live with the property the ferry system came up with,” said commission chair Rob Jacques. “They said they could live with what we suggested.”

Mark Julian, a commission member and the former operator of a public-use haul-out facility on the proposed site, believes islanders will “make anything work,” but said the proposed site and size are “certainly not ideal.”

He said recent WSF proposals for the site depict a narrow passageway lining the maintenance yard’s west shore that leads to a small, concentrated area facing the harbor’s center.

“It could have had a little larger configuration to be more conducive” for hauling out and repairs, Julian said.

Commission members said the city’s willingness to help facilitate the proposed haul-out facility will help it survive.

According to Jacques, the city would likely sublease to a private operator if one steps forward and is convinced that such an enterprise would be profitable.

But the lease WSF sets will likely determine the haul-out facility’s survival, said several commission members.

“It always comes down to economics, of course,” said Schoonmaker. “The place has got to be competitive with Port Townsend, Port Orchard and Shilshole (in Seattle).”

Islander Paul Skeffington, who ran a boat haul-out facility on Point Roberts, agreed that size and shape matter less than price.

“It’s critical, it’s make-or-break,” he said. “There’s no way this will work if the lease is too high.”

Skeffington also stressed that no operator will take up a lease without the basic infrastructure in place. He estimated that a pier, travel lift and other amenities could cost $500,000.

Making the enterprise even less appealing from an operator’s point of view is the shadow of “homeland security.”

“Nobody’s going to dump a bunch of money there if (WSF) is going to pull the rug at any time when they’re concerned about homeland security,” Skeffington said.

John Doerschuk, a member of Reclaim Our Waterfront, advises no one to hold their breath waiting for WSF’s promise not to condemn the site.

Doerschuck and other members of his group, which advocates the maintenance yard’s removal from Eagle Harbor, say WSF has a long list of broken promises that makes them skeptical of this most recent agreement.

“I suspect it’s another ploy,” he said. “It’s likely an attempt to hang a carrot in front of the city’s eyes. The city may yet again leap into thinking they’ve got a good proposal, but it doesn’t address many concerns.”

Doerschuk points to a 1974 ruling by the state Shoreline Hearings Board and a 1995 agreement struck between the city and WSF, guaranteeing a public boatyard larger than 1 acre.

He said WSF’s refusal to respect these measures, along with an unmet promise to link the ferry terminal to a waterfront trail, means Bainbridge likely won’t come out on top.

Doerschuk believes WSF may make some concessions to obtain city permits for $40 million in upgrades planned for the maintenance yard.

Rachel Smith, a long-time advocate for a boat haul-out facility on the harbor, will also keep a wary eye on WSF.

“If there’s any gray areas (in the agreement), it may make the city chicken again,” she said. “We should definitely look this gift horse in the mouth because it’s not a gift horse.

“The ferry system isn’t giving this to us. We have a right to it.”

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