State Parks still pushing Fay, Fort Ward transfers

After months of innuendo regarding a possible transfer of Fay Bainbridge and Fort Ward state parks, the state has made its formal overture to the Bainbridge Metropolitan Park and Recreation District.

At a June 12 meeting, the State Parks and Recreation Commission passed a resolution supporting the transfer of the two shoreline properties to the park district. The commission also approved $130,000 for the park district to help cover transfer costs if the deal went through.

The park district board has not set a date for making a formal decision on the transfer, but it could hold a vote in late July or early August.

First, it will hold two public hearings – on July 7 and July 21 – on Bainbridge to weigh public sentiment on the transfer (see box).

“The biggest question now is whether the community is supportive of us going in this direction,” park board member Kirk Robinson said. “The rest is just logistics.”

Talk of transferring the parks began last winter, when Gov. Christine Gregoire ordered State Parks to begin trimming its budget.

Even before the state budget crisis hit, Fay Bainbridge, Fort Ward and 11 other state parks had been placed on a list for possible transfer. During Centennial 2013 planning, those 13 parks had been identified as being potentially “inconsistent” with the agency’s vision. The list was never fully reviewed.

When State Parks was asked to identify deep budget cuts late last year, the list was used as a starting point for transferring or closing parks. It later added 30 more parks to be mothballed.

But during this year’s legislative session, legislators identified funding to keep all state parks open for the next biennium, while instructing the commission to “actively pursue transferring ownership of state parks to local governments, tribes or other entities that have expressed an interest in operating the park.”

That language spurred the commission to move ahead with a number of potential transfers, including the two Bainbridge Island parks. This week the agency transferred Wenberg State Park to Snohomish County Parks.

“The state parks were instructed to continue transferring those 13 parks that were deemed appropriate, as long as they have a willing and able partner,” State Parks spokesperson Virginia Painter said.

If the park district decides not to take the parks, State Parks could pursue a transfer with another agency, but so far there have been no other suitors.

“The key words are ‘willing and able,’” Painter said.

Otherwise the agency is required to keep the parks open, at least for the next biennium.

A transfer to the park district would end the state’s involvement in a proposed sewer project that would serve Fay Bainbridge and the Point Monroe neighborhood.

Park District Executive Director Terry Lande said he feels his staff now has the solid numbers it needs from the state to project the impact of taking on the parks.

Both parks could be staffed for less than $100,000 per year, Lande said. Personnel might include one full-time staff person and a summer staff person to pitch in during the busy season.

Money for operating the parks could be drawn from proceeds of the park district’s levy lid-lift, passed in 2008. Twenty-five percent of that revenue (about $292,000 this year) was set aside for funding operations.

Camping fees at Fay Bainbridge could bring in more than $50,000 annually, Lande said.

The $130,000 offered by State Parks would likely be used to refurbish bathrooms at Fay Bainbridge and to pay for a more thorough inspection of Fort Ward.

The park district is already bracing to receive a litany of public land from the city, but Lande said he is confident that both the state parks and city properties could be operated using lid-lift money. The district is expecting to tighten its belt next year, as a dip in property value assessments is expected to hurt its revenue, perhaps by 10 percent.

Opinion of the potential transfers has been mixed among park board members.

Board member Dave Shorett has been most vocally opposed to the transfers. Shorett said the park district shouldn’t be pressured to take on the financial burden of the properties when State Parks has the funding to keep the gates open.

“There’s a major split on the park board on this matter,” Shorett said. “I’m personally of the mind that we shouldn’t take on either state park unless we have to... We need to wait and see what happens.”

Others on the board see the parks as assets that would fit well with the park district’s mission of providing active recreation on the island.

Board Chair Tom Swolgaard said he would like the park district to take the properties on if State Parks no longer wants to maintain them.

“I think it would be absolutely be an asset, and I think we can afford it,” Swolgaard said.

State Park Meetings

Two meetings have been scheduled to discuss the potential transfer of Fay Bainbridge and Fort Ward state parks. Meetings will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. July 7 and July 21 at the Bainbridge Commons on Brien Drive. For more information, contact the park district at 842-2306.

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