Council still divided on open-water marina

The City Council revealed Tuesday during an emotional public meeting that it is more divided than ever concerning the liveaboard community’s future in the state-authorized Eagle Harbor Open-Water Moorage and Anchorage Area.

The discussion even went as far as to suggest the city should back out of the lease because it doesn’t want to evict its liveaboard community.

With Council Chambers packed by an overflowing crowd of an estimated 80 islanders, the council had a heated discussion about the future of liveaboards in the harbor for more than two hours over a report presented by members Hilary Franz and Kirsten Hytopoulos.

As members of a harbor lease negotiation team (along with Planning Director Katy Cook and Harbormaster Tami Allen), the two council members had met separately during the last two months with representatives of the state Department of Natural Resources and the island’s small liveaboard group.

Franz said Thursday that those negotiations have been based on establishing the residential numbers and location, boundary lines and the total number of boats allowed in the open-water marina.

The purpose was to move past last Oct. 21, when the council voted 4-3 to adopt a 16-vessel option (12 transient, four residential) as a basis for negotiating an open-water marina lease with DNR. The state agency also set a rate of 22 cents per square foot for a 360-degree swing of the area the boats take up – a rate that would price out the liveaboards, most of whom have been living on the water free of charge.

Allen has estimated there are 16 to 20 boats used as residences currently moored in Eagle Harbor, which means the historic tradition of people living on boats in Eagle Harbor would likely end.

As Councilor Debbie Lester put it Tuesday: “Four is not a community of liveaboards. For me, the biggest problem are the rates. Whether its transient or residential moorage, they should be charged the same.”

Of the 15 members of the audience who addressed the issue, most spoke in favor of preserving the liveaboard community.

There is some hope for them in light of a survey just completed that shows the full size (trapezoid shaped) of the marina and the number of residential and transient spots available in the harbor.

With this in hand, DNR said the city can count its existing linear moorage toward the total number of slips and also count moorage at the city dock as transient. In other words, if the number of slips increases, there is potential for the accommodation of more liveaboards – perhaps as many as a dozen.

Franz and Hytopoulos made several recommendations Wednesday to the full council and a pro-liveaboard audience, including: making the current lease rate system realistic for low-income liveaboards; installing up to 20 buoys for transient and/or residential uses; involving the Housing Resource Board and other human service groups in putting together an anchor-out lease application; and eventually converting a large percentage of the installed transient buoys to residential uses.

But it was the last suggestion that caused the biggest stir: “At no time will the city assist in the eviction of Eagle Harbor residents and/or the removal of occupied vessels.”

When asked about that, Bridget Moran, the DNR’s deputy supervisor of aquatics, said from her seat up front: “I don’t know how that will work. If the city goes into a lease with DNR, it has management responsibilities for that area. So the city would have to evict if the [lessee] is not inside of the regulations.”

Councilors Barry Peters and Bill Knobloch both responded by saying that while they respect the liveaboards, evicting them may have to be done if it’s necessary to adhere to the lease. They both emphasized the need to manage the harbor in a manner that is fair to all users, not just those living on the water.

Mayor Bob Scales, however, said signing a lease with DNR doesn’t support the city’s vision.

“We’re trying to fit a round peg into a trapezoid hole and it’s not fitting well,” Scales said. “The city has a policy and a Comprehensive Plan that supports our liveaboards. But state rules as they now stand won’t allow us to meet those goals. The state rules don’t fit us. If we enter into a lease, we will have to cut down the number of liveaboards.”

With that said, he suggested ending negotiations and “letting the state do what it wants to do. The cost is too high to our community and our values.”

When it was apparent that only Hytopoulos among the council members agreed with his approach, Scales asked for two or three volunteers to form a sub-committee to “negotiate with DNR and come back with something for us to decide on one way or another.” Peters, Knobloch and Franz said they would do so.

Franz said she doesn’t favor walking away from the DNR lease “because the end result will be eviction. If we work tirelessly and find a solution to save as many of the liveaboards as we can, then at least we saved some of them. And there’s the possibility of doing more going forward. I just can’t understand how you can force people out of their homes, especially at a time like this. I can’t do it.”

Franz said the council should try to save all of the liveaboards, although she said it’s looking like the most that could be saved are 12. Eventually, she said, it might be possible to add to the number of residential buoys in the harbor.

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