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A tale of two piers

Fishermen who use the Harper Dock and many residents who live nearby have sharply contrasting versions of what happens at the pier when the sun goes down.

The fishermen say they are quiet and respectful at night. But the residents say the fishermen are loud and rude, often hogging parking spots, tossing booze bottles and urinating in their yards. And while the anglers argue they deserve a nighttime spot to drop a line, the residents argue they deserve a decent night’s sleep.

These vastly different versions of what goes on at the dock led to a tense public hearing at the Port of Bremerton Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday as fishermen argued to have a recently imposed curfew lifted and residents pleaded to have it remain.

“I have slept really good since the curfew,” said Donita Davies, who lives across the street from the pier, insisting that before the board closed the pier from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. on June 21 she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in 10 years.

Davies said she is fed up with the behavior of many of the people who use the pier, claiming she has seen “just about everything” right below her bedroom window.

“I’ve been yelled at, found alcohol bottles in my front yard, had a generator stolen and even had to get rid of our driveway because it has been blocked so many times we could hardly use it,” she said. “(The pier) is not a peaceful place, and it is not well-patrolled.”

Davies then presented the commissioners with a petition supporting the curfew, which she said contained 38 signatures of nearby residents.

“I’m not the only neighbor who feels this way,” she said.

South Kitsap resident Jason Boddy, whose comments at the July 13 meeting sparked Tuesday’s public hearing, said he often fishes at the pier well after midnight and hasn’t seen the problems neighbors described.

“I have never seen rowdy fishermen at night,” Boddy said, describing the users as a typically quiet group that goes there to relax. “There are groups of kids that come and cause problems, but we ask them to move on.”

Boddy, who fishes late at night due to his work schedule, suggested the board limit use of the pier at night to people with fishing licenses, saying he felt having fisherman at the pier helped prevent problems.

“The curfew is wrong,” said Joe Aslin, who said he has been fishing at the dock for 25 years. Aslin agreed with Boddy that having fishermen there at night deterred, rather than caused, problems. “You couldn’t find a better bunch of men.”

Jeff Wershow, who lives adjacent to the pier and runs an espresso stand out of his residence, openly scoffed at Aslin’s description of the fishermen.

Wershow said for years the neighbors surrounding the dock have suffered theft, harassment, vandalism and other behavior from the people who use the dock.

“The serious problems have made our community live with an unrest that no community should have to bear,” Wershow said, reading from a prepared statement.

He said it’s not just criminal activity that disturbs the residents, but noise from fishermen running generators and engines at all hours, slamming car doors and even just talking loudly prevents him and his neighbors from sleeping.

“A lot of nice people do bad things,” Wershow said. “It has been so peaceful since the curfew. Please do not take it away from us.”

However, Jim Heytvelt disagreed that a curfew was the answer. Heytvelt, who said he has lived on Harper Hill Road across from the pier for 15 years, said when similar problems with vandalism and criminal activity arose at nearby Harper Park and ballfield, a curfew was imposed that just prevented law-abiding citizens from using the park.

“It didn’t seem to deter the people who are intent on being rowdy and drinking alcohol,” Heytvelt said. “I don’t know what the answer is for the pier, but all the problems with trash and alcohol use can’t be blamed on the fishermen. We need to encourage the fishermen to use the pier, because they are good for the community.”

James Wright, who lives on Westway Drive, said problems with vandalism and theft were not localized at the pier, but happened at his house three miles away.

Wright said he felt the alcohol problem was greatly exaggerated, and that most of the complaints were an example of “people moving into an area with a public dock, then having a problem with the public dock.”

Chief Operating Officer Tim Thomson said the board imposed the curfew last month to stem an increase in complaints about rowdiness, vandalism and other incidents at the pier. Once the curfew was imposed, however, Thomson said the board began receiving e-mails and faxes from people disappointed the pier was closed so early, and decided to schedule a study session Tuesday to allow the commissioners to hear directly from the public.

“I initially chose a blunt instrument for the problem by establishing a curfew,” said Chief Executive Officer Ken Attebery, explaining the board will spend two weeks gathering more information about issues surrounding the pier — in particular from the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department.

Attebery said he expects a decision will be announced at the next board meeting Aug. 10 at 4 p.m.

Attebery said as far as he was concerned, there were no limits to the actions the board might take regarding the curfew, including removing it, modifying its hours and days, or leaving it as is.

Commissioner Mary Ann Huntington, whose jurisdiction includes Harper Dock, said what to do next with the curfew will be a tough decision, and after hearing the comments Tuesday she is “torn between the homeowners and the fishermen.

“I think we absolutely have to talk to the sheriff’s department,” she said. “They would see more clearly than we would about the reported vandalism and other problems.”

According to the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department, incident records do not mirror the reports of increased vandalism. In fact, according to spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson, the majority of 911 calls at or around the pier since March were made after June 21, the day the sign was posted, and most originated from Wershow’s residence.

At the meeting Tuesday Boddy said this backed up his claim that having fishermen there at night curbed problems. But Wershow said the increase in responses was because law enforcement now had something to enforce.

Wilson said the sheriff’s department did not “put any pressure on the board to impose a curfew, but anything that helps the deputies with a clear-cut rule (regarding who can be on the dock and when) always is to our advantage.”

Huntington said she hoped to find a compromise that would appease both the fishermen and the residents, and said a good option might be to lift the curfew one or two nights a week, or every other weekend.

“That way the residents would be prepared that on some nights they should close the windows and know they’re not going to get much sleep,” Huntington said. “I’d like to find a way to give everyone a chance to enjoy their hobby, but also their home.”

Huntington said the last thing the board wants to do is deny people use of the pier, and described the impact a past closure had.

“We had to close the pier for two years a while back to replace the pilings — and talk about an angry crowd,” she said. “I don’t want to see that happen again. But fishermen need to have courtesy and understand what it’s like to live there.”

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