Take a hard look at ferry operations

You don’t have to be an old-timer to recall a day when boat repair was common on Eagle Harbor.

The perspective of a single decade will do.

As late as 1995, you could stroll the shoreline trail east

from Waterfront Park and see a dozen or more sailboats sitting high and try on cribbing, their hulls being cleaned or painted, and vessels undergoing more extensive refurbishment. The small but successful Eagle Harbor Boat Yard gave local boaters easy access to haul-out services for which they would otherwise have to had to go to Port Townsend or elsewhere. On an island with hundreds of registered sail and power boats, it was a useful business to have around.

That was until Washington State Ferries decided to muscle out the little guy. After condemning the property (also the site of a bulkhead business) to expand its own ferry repair operations, the state promised -- in writing -- to set aside part of the acreage for lease to a private boat repair outfit, to continue waterfront use by the community. That, as anyone who walks the waterfront trail today can see, never happened. WSF declared that it couldn’t come to terms with any private operators to set up a yard; instead, the agency expanded into the area it had promised to set aside, then promptly forgot about its promise and hoped everyone else did too.

Ten years later, the WSF maintenance facility has become something of a football, as politicos trot out competing visions for a redeveloped Winslow waterfront – if the state can ever be coaxed to move its ferry operation elsewhere, like Seattle or Tacoma. Many argue that the maintenance yard has no value to the Bainbridge community, compared to what could be. The state, meanwhile, says it has no intention of moving out, and workers defend the facility as a bastion of blue-collar jobs for long-time tradesmen.

We agree that it’s hard to begrudge anyone employment there, and we’ll leave it to others to argue for redevelopment. What is hard to suffer, though, is the affront to the Bainbridge Island community represented by the back lot of the maintenance yard, where the community haul-out facility once sat. What once served Bainbridge’s many boaters is today WSF’s private junkyard, strewn with the detritus of the ferry fleet. The agency next wants to turn it into a parking lot, for WSF workers’ use. There “may” be room elsewhere on the site for a haul-out facility, WSF says, but they wouldn’t even be bringing it up were not the mayor’s office pressing the issue.

In today’s edition, we begin a three-part series examining the ferry maintenance facility’s place on Bainbridge Island, WSF’s plans for the property and the nearby terminal, and other opportunities that some community members see there. What’s clear even now is that the state needs to be a better partner with the city, to ensure that what’s good for WSF is also good for Bainbridge Island.

As Washington State Ferries comes to City Hall looking for permits for its projects, perhaps the city can remind them of past promises, under threat of a decisive “No.”

The state’s word is supposed to mean something.

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