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Port works out lease-to-buy deal for boat ramp

"Rejoice, South Kitsap residents, because beach-lovers everywhere could soon access the Olalla boat launch again, blocked off for weeks by a fence and no-trespassing signs.Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido this week negotiated on the county's behalf a lease-to-buy deal with Marianne Nelson Stewart, whose family owns a part of the closed boat launch and parking lot at Olalla Bay.The boat launch clearly needs to be publicly owned, Garrido said. It's the only boat launch in the Olalla area, while I believe the nearest one is in Manchester. Many Olalla residents said they have had to travel clear to Gig Harbor for access. This is so important to the South Kitsap area.The county plans to lease the Nelsons' portion of the boat launch for $1 over the next six months. Two additional parties own portions of the boat launch; one owner expressed interest in selling, the other just decided not to block public access. Meanwhile, an independent appraiser is expected to step in with a market-value price tag for the Nelsons' portion, Garrido said. According to the county assessor's records, the property is valued at less than $6,000. And, even if the appraiser calls for more cash, Garrido said, the county can handle it.That's a small price to pay compared with the disappointment of hundreds of citizens who saw their beloved watering hole apparently close forever several weeks ago.Worried about liability risks that could go hand-in-hand with the hundreds of South Kitsap residents who converge at the boat launch at various times, Stewart closed it off to public access Aug. 18 on behalf of her family.For nearly 100 years, residents have gathered at Olalla Bay to picnic, swim and boat. More recently, revelers have plugged up the causeway for the New Year's Day Polar Bear Jump, as well as the boat launch and beach for impromptu, Fourth of July celebrations.We didn't want to close the property, Stewart had explained. But it's like we have been acting like a parks department without the financial resources or protection of a public agency.Stewart said she and her family would feel easy again only if the county or Port of Bremerton purchased the boat launch.The port, which for years leased and maintained the boat launch and parking lot, couldn't necessarily purchase the property, even if officials wanted to. Besides, when talks between the port and Stewart on the matter faltered earlier this summer, the Nelsons decided to abruptly terminate the lease with the port. Meanwhile, Stewart had approached Garrido about the county possibly purchasing the Nelsons' property. Garrido, who is running for re-election this fall, told Stewart other land deals were currently in the works at the county level, so a decision to buy the Nelson property couldn't come soon.That's when Stewart and her family decided to erect the fence, post no-trespassing signs and issue letters explaining the closure to hundreds of Olalla residents.The very Friday the fence went up, Garrido hosted a town hall meeting, and more than 100 Olalla residents attended.Residents mainly asked her about how to re-open Olalla Bay, she said.So she went to work and, on Monday, the county commissioners gave Chairman Tim Botkin permission to sign and authorize the lease-to-buy agreement. As of Thursday, Stewart and the family's lawyer were still reviewing the contract.Garrido said her staff was confident, however, that an agreement would be reached by Friday, Sept. 1 in time for the Labor Day weekend.It looks as if the situation is working out for everybody involved, Stewart had said this week before the papers had been signed.Garrido expected the county to host a grand re-opening of the boat launch on Friday. "

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