Liveaboard plan sidelined by state

The city sidelined a plan for regulating Eagle Harbor’s liveaboards this week after the state reversed its position on a key, and possibly contradictory, maritime regulation.

“Suddenly, we had a new interpretation (of state law) brought to us” from the state Department of Natural Resources, said Councilwoman Hilary Franz, who has led efforts in recent months to develop three options for creating an open water marina, the first of its kind in the state and the last bastion for a anchored-out liveaboard community in Puget Sound.

DNR’s reversed position on marina regulations last week spurred the city to cancel a discussion of the options at Wednesday’s night’s City Council meeting, further delaying open water marina plans that have spent nearly a decade in development.

In a letter sent to the city last week, DNR took issue with the city’s inclusion of anchored vessels in determining the number of fulltime residents allowed in the marina, which would cover an area of open water south of Waterfront Park and would not include a dock or pier.

The letter cites a law that specifies the “total number of slips” must be used when determining the ratio of residential and temporary uses in “any marina, pier, open water moorage and anchorage area.”

“(B)ecause an open water anchoring area does not have slips, those boats anchored cannot be included,” wrote DNR Shoreline District Manager Lori Price, referring to a ratio reserving a quarter of the marina for fulltime resident liveaboards and the remainder for temporary and overnight users.

According to some members of the city Harbor Commission, the law seems to contradict itself. A slip, which is defined in maritime handbooks as a space for boats on docks and other over-water structures, are nonexistent in open water moorage and anchorage areas.

Price declined to specify DNR’s definition of ‘slip,’ saying she preferred talking to the city about the issue before talking to the press.

“I’m a little perplexed myself,” she said. “But DNR is definitely not telling the city they can’t have residential use. But residential use has to be done according to the rules.”

The council on Wednesday agreed to send a group of city officials – likely a legal expert and a council member – to Olympia to clarify DNR’s position.

According to Franz, a land use attorney, state rules governing marinas “have a lot of gray area,” offering enough flexibility for a reinterpretation favoring the city’s plan.

DNR gave its tacit approval weeks ago for a city plan that would allow the marina to include 10 resident liveaboards and 30 visitors using mooring buoys or anchors, Franz said.

Allowing many users to anchor in the marina rather than attach boats to buoys would allowgive greater flexibility to boaters, keep city costs low and allow the largest number of liveaboards of the three options under discussion.

DNR’s new interpretation may require the city to install several mooring buoys to retain the same number of liveaboards. The added buoys would come at a substantial cost and would clutter the harbor, Franz said.

Excluding anchored vessels may put the focus on an option limiting the marina to four resident liveaboards and 12 part-time users. The scaled-back option would require fewer buoys and cost less – likely a consideration in for the cash-strapped city.

Since 1999, the city has worked to preserve the liveaboard population in the face of DNR’s increasingly tough stance on boaters living in public waters. While DNR has removed liveaboards from other harbors and bays, Bainbridge has negotiated an open water marina proposal that would allow some liveaboards to remain in Eagle Harbor while meeting state regulatory and fee requirements.

While maligned by some shore dwellers, Bainbridge’s liveaboard community has existed for over a century, and is considered an important part of the island’s population diversity.

One thought on “Liveaboard plan sidelined by state

  1. What is perplexing about this latest “controversy” regarding the harbor management plan discussions and DNR’s stance is that the State has never to my knowledge indicated that empty anchoring space could be counted as marina boat slips for purposes of determining use ratios. I believe that concept originated at the City and through a process of wishful thinking was taken as a given in some quarters. How anyone close to this issue could blame a purported change in policy at DNR on a last minute scuttle of one of the management options Council was going to consider is simply looking for a scapegoat. The State has been unbelievably patient and has bent over backwards while waiting years for COBI to finally assume jurisdiction of Eagle Harbor. An attempt to lay this latest kerfuffle at DNR’s doorstep is disingenuous at best.

    Bob Selzler, member, BI Harbor Commission

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