Community

Boat launch needs replacing, but who’s going to pay for it?

Someone needs to replace the city’s Water Street Boat Launch.

Leaders representing Port Orchard and the Port of Bremerton agree on that. But they disagree about who should pick up the $250,000 to $400,000 tab.

Several months ago, Port Orchard’s city council approached the port with the possibility of a three-way partnership between Port Orchard, the Port of Bremerton and Safe Boats International, a privately owned company that damaged the ramp significantly, according to the city.

SAFE Boats has for years used the facility to launch industrial boats with heavy trucks, like semi-trailers, on the boat ramp, which was designed for lighter boats and pickup trucks.

The heavier-than-intended use has caused holes to form at the bottom of the ramp and undermined the ground beneath it, so the port retained Seattle-based PND Engineers, Inc., to estimate how much repairing the structure would cost.

“Providing interim repairs to the current system would not be fiscally responsible,” the company wrote in an assessment, since, “there would be very little of the current system that could be saved.”

Instead, the engineers said, a new ramp would be needed.

The port agreed to install a new boat launch, assuming the “city will vacate the entire length of Water Street from Bay Street to the street end and transfer this property to the port by a quit-claim deed.”

In other words, the port will replace the ramp only if the city turns over the property on which it sits.

But the city has declined.

Port Orchard leaders say they’re willing to work towards a solution, like renting out the boat launch to the Port of Bremerton, but they don’t want to give it away completely.

The Port of Bremerton, according to a source close to the negotiations, has treated Port Orchard like a “redheaded stepchild” in the past, so giving it the boat launch wouldn’t be in the city’s best interest.

For example, the port recently refused to allow the city to put a pedestrian pathway through port property.

This cost the city $281,000, which the port made no effort to defray.

Meanwhile, the port has consistently invested more money in Bremerton than Port Orchard.

In the past six years alone, the port has spent more than $50 million in Bremerton compared with the $16 million it’s spent in South Kitsap over the past 40.

The port’s most expensive project in Port Orchard was the city’s $3 million marina, built in 1972.

By contrast, the Port of Bremerton plans to spend an estimated $8 million on a new parking garage for Bremerton in the near future while Port Orchard is still searching for funding for its planned parking garage.

Nonetheless, the city’s leaders are willing to work hard and cooperate to fix the boat launch, said Mayor Lary Coppola at a recent special council meeting.

Coppola assigned several members of his staff to work on the issue with staff from the Port of Bremerton.

Safe Boats International employs 300 people locally, and the city of Port Orchard doesn’t want to be responsible for driving them away, Coppola said.

Staff from the city and the port have met several times and are working toward a solution.

“Staff seems to be working together just fine,” said Jennifer Forbes, Port Orchard’s assistant city attorney. “But staff doesn’t control things. It’s ultimately up to the city council, and I can’t say whether they’ll approve it or not.”

Under a current draft of the solution, the port would repair the ramp, and pay the city an additional $1 per year for the next 25 years to rent it.

“The port’s asking for a nominal rent with the real compensation being the improvements they make to the ramp,” Forbes said. “That’s just a proposal that’s been put on the table by the port.”

Port and city staff hope to complete the details of the new proposal by early January and present their proposed solution to the city and port at separate meetings on Jan. 11.

The Port of Bremerton’s next commissioner’s meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. that same day, and the commissioners hope to discuss the solution at that meeting.

Port Orchard’s City Council has a regular meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. that day, and they hope to hold a special work study session beforehand to discuss the proposal.

“The bottom line is, we serve the same people,” said Port Commissioner Bill Mahan, “and if we can figure out a way to take care of those folks and have the public win, in having a very nicely located boat ramp, then we all come out of this having done our job.”

Lawyers representing both the city council and the port commissioners will share a new potential solution at separate meetings for the city and port.

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