DNR attempts to accommodate liveaboards in implementation of open-water marina

The open-water marina will feature 16 slips, 12 of which are for transient use, while liveaboard vessels, like those pictured above, will be limited to a total of four slips.  - Brad Camp | File Photo
The open-water marina will feature 16 slips, 12 of which are for transient use, while liveaboard vessels, like those pictured above, will be limited to a total of four slips.
— image credit: Brad Camp | File Photo

The passage of an open-water marina in Eagle Harbor last October seemingly ensured the demise of Bainbridge’s century-old liveaboard community, but now that fate isn’t so certain.

Over the past month, representatives from the city, the liveaboard community, the state Department of Natural Resources and state elected officials have met several times to search for a solution that doesn’t lead to the expulsion of the liveaboards.

Out of those meetings came willingness from the DNR to negotiate lease terms and other facets of the marina in the hope of making it more affordable for liveaboards.

“I think DNR wants to find an alternative,” said liveaboard resident Rich Seubert, who is an active member of the Boaters and Mariners of Bainbridge Island (BAMBI). “I got that DNR would like to enter into some sort of negotiations where they can change some of their rules to accommodate the liveaboard community. I think that’s a pretty powerful statement.”

Bridget Moran, deputy director of aquatics and agency resources for DNR, said the meetings helped gain some insight as to how to best accommodate the liveaboards during negotiations of a lease.

“It was good to hear exactly what they wanted because we had not had a lot of direct interaction with the liveaboard community,” she said.

Through these meetings and talks between the DNR and elected officials, it has become clear that the DNR is attempting to be flexible in its implementation of the open-water marina to help preserve the liveaboard community.

But it’s still all up to the City Council to make a change.

At Wednesday’s study session, the council named members Kirsten Hytopoulos and Hilary Franz to the negotiating team. The body also decided to temporarily put off negotiations until an acknowledgment is received in writing from DNR of flexibility on some key issues.

The council was hesitant to accept this new-found flexibility given the stringent nature of DNR demands during the marina planning process. But now it appears things have changed.

Mayor Bob Scales participated in discussions about the marina during his first stint on council, but he said that group wasn’t allowed any wiggle room.

“We were essentially told we didn’t have a choice,” he said. “Because we weren’t told we had a lot of flexibility, we didn’t have a lot of discussion about it. We may actually have some say and some ability to decide what options we have.”

At the meeting, the new members of the negotiating team, Hytopoulos and Franz, said they were interested in setting up the city to be flexible within the negotiations.

“Let’s do what we need to allow flexibility,” Hytopoulos said.

Moran said before the meeting that DNR is willing to work with the council to find creative solutions to some of the problems associated with the marina. But, she said, in order for those discussions to proceed, the council has to direct the negotiating team to broach those subjects. Prior to the Wednesday meeting, she said DNR hadn’t been given notice of any changes to be made to the option agreed upon in October.

Moran previously indicated that lease fees weren’t negotiable. Moran said the aquatic land value is calculated at a 70 percent discount of an adjacent upland parcel. The DNR chose Waterfront Park as that point because the public use of the park mirrors the public use of the marina. Moran added that the park was the cheapest parcel available.

“The formula is set in stone, but based on public access, there’s a little bit of flexibility in how we implement it,” she said.

Flexibility comes in the form of whom is counted in the lease.

Moran said first-come, first-serve transient use can be discounted from the overall lease. Over a smaller area, and with fewer boats to cover, the overall cost of the lease would be cheaper for the city, reducing the amount residential vessel owners would have to pay as well.

In October, the council, faced with a budget crisis, opted for the smallest option possible.

Cost weighed heavily on the minds of the previous council. The city is on the hook for the DNR lease whether or not all the slips are occupied, and the thought of having to pay for numerous empty slips scared the council.

Of the 16-slip marina passed by the council, four spots are reserved for liveaboard vessels. In Washington, Moran said, the standard cap for liveaboards is 10 percent. But the city amended its Shoreline Master Plan to increase the percentage to 25. Pending approval from the Department of Ecology, which has to OK such a change, the city could again increase the percentage.

Moran said the DNR is open to exploring alternative ideas on the marina, but before that can happen, it has to be clear what the city wants.

“We haven’t found the magic bullet yet, but that’s what we’re waiting for, to see if the city wants to change it,” she said.

Estimates of the number of liveaboard residents in Eagle Harbor vary, but most put the number around 16. Seubert said all of the residents have remained in the harbor as negotiations over the marina continue.

One of the pieces of the plan most opposed by the liveaboards is the cost. Liveaboard residents currently pay nothing for their land. Under the current open-water marina plan, boaters would pay approximately 22 cents per foot, in addition to the entire area encumbered by the swing of the boat. According to city figures that works out to a monthly rent for a 35-foot boat of $365, a figure the majority of liveaboard residents can’t come up with.

But, Moran said, all these figures are uncertain until a survey of the land is formed, the amount of public access is determined.

One option to reduce costs to the liveaboards, presented in a plan by BAMBI, was to lease individual buoys from the state – a practice that would cost around $200 annually. But Moran said that wasn’t legal. Buoys could not be leased to live on in open water.

Moran maintained that these negotiations will come with some confusion and a trial-and-error process because this marina is the first of its kind.

“Whenever you act to implement a rule for the first time, you lose things about it,” Moran said. “It is accommodating what the community wishes to accommodate. There are ways to get creative solutions once we have a sense of how many liveaboards the community wants to accommodate.”

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