City may open up marina for more liveaboards

It’s been nearly two years since Bainbridge Island established its open water marina for liveaboards in Eagle Harbor.

On Wednesday, the city council checked in on how the system was fairing. Deputy City Manager Morgan Smith briefed council members on the status of the moorage system.

“It’s a natural time to check in on how the marina is functioning,” Smith said, further noting that the three original council members who got the ball rolling for the open water marina have left the dais, and the remaining three members from when it was implemented will also soon be leaving.

Two issues were of chief concern Wednesday, and Smith asked the council to consider them while moving forward; adding more tenants, and moorage capacity.

When the moorage was initially instituted, the tenant pool was limited to those already a part of the open water community, Smith said. But interest in the moorage has since stretched beyond that community.

“From time-to-time we have been approached by folks who want to know if space is available and our response has been that we are not offering new leases at this time,” Smith said. “One of the implications of that, though, is the sustainability over time.”

Smith noted that the moorage system may eventually need new tenants.

“If council would like to take up the question if they would like to maintain that policy, then we want to work with you to understand the criteria that you want to apply to potential tenants,” she said.

The council was quick to respond.

“I don’t remember that policy to only allow for the existing community,” said Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” she said.

Councilman Bob Scales, who was also on the council when the moorage system was installed, also did not recall the policy.

Smith said that was the instruction city staff had been operating under, and something she wanted the council to reconsider.

“The direction I received from the city manager at the time was pretty explicit,” Smith said. “That we had a set of about 20 applicants and we were, at least in the short term, only taking on folks within that community.”

The council appeared to back the notion of opening up leases to new tenants for the system.

“I absolutely want us to reconsider that (policy),” said Councilwoman Anne Blair.

“I think this should be a permanent part of our community,” she said. “And I don’t like the idea of attrition. And that’s the effect of the current policy.”

Adding more tenants may require more buoys. The system was originally approved for twice the number of boats on fore and aft buoys. But costs at the time only allowed for enough buoys to anchor five boats.

Mayor Steve Bonkowski said he would be interested in hearing about costs associated with adding the final five spots.

Not all are interested in expanding the marina’s capacity, however.

Mark Lease, chairman of the city’s Harbor Commission, said that liveaboards who have already dropped anchor on Bainbridge may not be so keen on the idea.

“I’ve spoken to most of the residents out there and they say it’s at a very stable condition at the present time,” Lease said.

“We’ve had quite a big discussion, and owners of boats out there on the buoys want space between the boats so they can maneuver onto the buoys. (And) they want space between them. If you fill the open water marina you may find that there are several objections.”

Smith also noted plans to reinstitute annual leases for the marina.

Initially, one-year leases were offered for the open water marina, after which tenants rented month-to-month. But Smith said that the city would like to go back to annual leases in 2015 to provide security to tenants.

The open water marina is the result of a deal between the city and the state Department of Natural Resources. The city has a 12-year lease for the open water area from the department, and then subleases moorage to liveaboards.

The city currently has 10 years left on its lease with the department.

The system consists of a linear moorage system for smaller boats, and buoys to anchor boats fore and aft. There are currently eight tenants on the system, including three smaller boats on the linear system, and five larger boats on the buoys.

There were originally 20 applicants for moorage on the system in 2011. Ten were offered leases; five for the linear moorage, and five for buoys.

Two tenants have since left, however, leaving only three on the linear system.

The city has so far broken even on the financial operation of the moorage.

The Department of Natural Resources granted the city $57,000 in 2011 to pay for the installation of the system. It is the only 100 percent residential moorage within the department’s aquatic land holdings.

Richard D. Oxley can be reached at 206-842-6613 or roxley@bain

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