Marine railway idea out, bigger marina in

The last vestiges of Horluck Transportation’s one-time empire are nearly gone as owner Hilton Smith on Monday got permission from the Port Orchard City Council to dismantle the Port Orchard Marine Railway — the former boatyard for the Horluck fleet.

Smith, who relinquished involvement in the Port Orchard/Bremerton foot-ferry in December, wants to use the area occupied by the railway to expand the site’s marina component. The facility, now known as the Port Orchard Marine Corp. Marina, currently supports 38 moorage slips. Smith’s plans will add 20 more.

Smith said there was no reason to keep the railway operational now that all his Horluck boats are gone. A marina, he said, was a much better use of the site’s resources.

“I have no need for the facility and you can’t make it work commercially,” Smith said, pointing out the railway configuration only allowed him to work on one vessel at a time. “I think you’ll find in terms of business, marinas are quite strong in Port Orchard. We haven’t had a vacancy (in ours) for over a year.”

Smith’s marina has been in official operation since 1997. Before then, a handful of boats moored haphazardly to the available piers, taking whatever space they could find. To sort things out, the city required that Smith draft a formal marina plan and install standardized moorage slips.

The expansion plan was actually sparked by a more recent problem the marina had with overcrowding — the state found Smith had too high a percentage of liveaboards on-site and told him to either hand out evictions or bring the facility up to standards.

The extra 20 slips, for a grand total of 58 moorages, are expected to help drop the percentage of liveaboards below the 10 percent cutoff required by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Attrition, Smith said, is expected to pare down the extras relatively quickly.

“We have 13 liveaboards, and that’s pretty much what we’ve had here,” he said. “We are not offering liveaboard leases to anyone now.”

Thus far, the state agencies that oversee over-water construction have been very pleased with Smith’s proposal. He reportedly earned high marks from the state Department of Fisheries for exceeding its minimum shoreline impact mitigation standards. The plan includes removing 155 pilings, plus the railway and boat sled, and then improving the site’s shoreline.

Various storage and work sheds associated with the railway are also slated for removal.

The City Council seemed impressed by Fisheries’ support of the project but questioned Smith’s parking plan, which called for more than half the marina cars to park alongside Bay Street, otherwise known as State Route 166.

“I don’t know that the applicant has permission from the State of Washington to use the right-of-way in the way he’s proposing,” said city attorney Greg Jacoby.

Several council members voiced concerns that Smith’s parking plan was dependent on the state not forbidding him to use the shoulders of a state highway as a parking lot.

Two of the marina’s residential neighbors also complained about the roadside parking, saying it created a safety hazard.

“Any vehicles lining up on the road down there is dangerous,” said Glen Skelton, who lives across the street from the marina. “I usually try to walk on the other side; I have to get into the road to get around the cars.”

Skelton also testified against the marina expansion’s effect on his view of the inlet. He said extra rows of covered moorage would make it very difficult for him to see the shipyard across the water — the best view he has.

In the end, the council decided Smith’s plan was workable. Councilman Ron Rider suggested simply juggling parking on-site should the state complain about the cars along the side of the road.

Councilwoman Rita DiIenno applauded Smith’s efforts and drew attention to the steady progression of improvements on the site in the last decade or so.

“Seeing what it’s been, it’s come a long way,” she said. “This couldn’t help but improve it.”

The final vote on the project was unanimous, although two council members had to recuse themselves from deliberations due to conflicts of interest.

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