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Bainbridge's Wicca houseboat to be destroyed June 27

Apart from a Coast Guard sticker on a window, there isn’t much left of the Wicca to suggest it was once afloat.

The cedar-shake houseboat, towed from Eagle Harbor to Port Gamble in March, is now a floorless cabin in a corner of the Caicos Corp. yard in Port Gamble.

Soon it won’t even be that.

The City of Bainbridge Island, which has owned the houseboat since taking possession following a code violation citation in February, twice requested that Wicca be destroyed in May, but the work was not carried out by Caicos.

In a letter last week, the city informed Caicos President Dave Berry that his company was in breach of contract and instructed him to demolish Wicca’s cabin by June 27.

Berry recently said the demolition hadn’t been high on his list of priorities because the cabin isn’t taking up much space. Scrapping the structure won’t be difficult, he said.

“It will only take a few minutes with an excavator,” Berry said.

Wicca’s journey from Eagle Harbor icon to obscurity in Port Gamble began last winter.

Wicca had been bobbing in Eagle Harbor since it was converted from a floating boat house into a cedar-sided houseboat by islander Ron Keys in the 1970s, becoming the second liveaboard home in the harbor.

“Those were wonderful times,” Keys said. “It was a very different bay then.”

As a centerpiece of a colorful liveaboard community it was later home to more than 15 residents and was been pictured in the pages of National Geographic and a local phone book.

But over the last winter the house and its barge-style float fell into disrepair, developing a heavy list.

Several 911 calls were made by residents concerned it was sinking, though its owner said it had simply taken on rainwater during the winter’s severe storms. The city cited Wicca as an unsafe structure and took possession from the owner in February with the intention of having it barged away and demolished as soon as a contractor became available.

In the following weeks citizens scrambled to find ways of saving the vessel and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission submitted a nomination to add Wicca to the city’s historic register. But because the city owned Wicca, the nomination required City Council approval, which was never secured.

The city decided to have Wicca removed to Port Gamble and stored for 30 days to give citizens interested in restoring it time to coordinate. On March 15, Wicca was successfully leveled and towed out of Eagle Harbor by a Caicos tugboat.

But in Port Gamble, Wicca didn’t receive a warm welcome.

A week after its arrival, the Department of Natural Resources sent the city notification that the vessel was moored above state-controlled tidelands and that “because of the Wicca’s apparently ailing condition” the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe was concerned the houseboat could become a hazard to “natural resources in the vicinity.”

The agency requested Wicca be stored on land or at a marina.

To safely lift Wicca from the water while preserving its cabin, Caicos crews had to remove its float, which was scrapped, and attach beams to its sides. The cabin was deposited in a brambly southern corner of the yard where it has sat since.

In April, Bainbridge architect Devin Johnson submitted a plan to the city for rehabilitating Wicca with the intention of returning it to Eagle Harbor. The city extended the storage period an extra 30 days, but advised Johnson that it would likely be impossible to navigate the tangle of DNR and city rules regarding permanent moorage and liveaboards, to return Wicca to Eagle Harbor.

Johnson eventually decided to drop his efforts and the city received no proposals for rehabilitating the structure onshore, according to city Code Enforcement Officer Meghan McKnight.

With the 60-day storage period over, the city is carrying through with plans to have Wicca demolished.

Keys said it would be great if Wicca could still be restored, but he said he never expects the boats he builds to live forever.

“It sounds like this story is coming to an end,” he said.

Community Events, April 2014

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