Seabeck marina developers speak outMarch 29th, 2011 by brynn grimley
In Tuesday’s paper I wrote a story updating on the status of the Seabeck marina project and the fact that a long-term lease agreement still hasn’t been reached between the private developers and the state Department of Natural Resources.
I received a call at the end of last week from Bryan Flint, a DNR spokesman, who said the state had sent a proposed lease agreement to Olympic View Marina partners Boyer Halvorsen and Wil Clark in December. The pair responded last month, and DNR just sent its response to their counterproposal last Friday.
I tried calling Halvorsen and Clark Monday — leaving messages at multiple numbers. I didn’t get a call back until this morning. That’s because they were waiting to receive DNR’s letter before commenting, Clark said.
While it was implied by DNR that the marina partners appeared to still be interested in the marina project— primarily because Halvorsen and Clark have continued communication with DNR officials — I got a different impression Tuesday.
Halvorsen and Clark appear less optimistic about the future of the project after the state’s most recent letter. They didn’t outright say they were going to walk away, but Clark already sounds halfway out the door.
Halvorsen seems to still have hope, but it looks like that glimmer is fading.
“I’m just thinking the DNR should condemn the property and take it on themselves and figure out what to do with it,” Clark said.
A stipulation in the lease that says the developers must test for hazardous materials and toxins in the ground under the proposed marina is causing angst among the developers.
Clark says they’re happy to do the samples, but they are worried the tests won’t pinpoint all the places where toxins might appear in the future.
Because they hope to use about 50 acres of water space, they’re worried there are too many risks outside of their control. If toxins are found after the marina is built, they aren’t sure they’d be able to determine whether the chemicals came from their project, previous use of the site or someone else building in Hood Canal.
“I personally feel the risk is too large to take on,” Clark said. “What if someone else causes chemicals to move into our site? That’s a non-insurable risk.”
A marina, shipyard and former mill have all occupied the site where the marina is proposed. Because those uses date back more than 120 years, Clark says they’re confident there are toxins in the ground.
But even if the developers “over test” the area — surpassing what DNR requires — Clark and Halvorsen say the cost associated with testing would be so high that it would “dwarf” costs tied to the construction of the project.
“The whole purpose of DNR is public lands for public access,” Halvorsen said. “Not to be environmental stewards. It’s too much liability.”
Flint, with DNR, said it’s the agency’s policy to require this type of testing in all of its lease agreements for projects like the one proposed in Seabeck.
“It’s standard practice,” he said. “It’s in their best interest, it protects them from liability and it protects the state.”
If Halvorsen and Clark do go forward with the testing and toxins are found, it’s up to them to determine how they should proceed, Flint said.
“The state doesn’t have the funding to clean the site up,” he said.
The developers would be left to decide if they want to spend their money to clean up state-owned land that they would also pay to lease long-term.
DNR officials reached out to Halvorsen and Clark this week to discuss their options in light of the most recent letter, Flint said. He couldn’t comment on the specific options available to the developers because the lease is still in the negotiation phase.
Clark and Halvorsen said Tuesday they weren’t sure yet how they wanted to proceed. They plan to sit down with their third partner soon to discuss whether to walk away or have one more go at it.
The other thing working against them is the clock. Permits approved by the Army Corps of Engineers are set to expire this fall. If they expire before the work is done, the developers will have to start the permitting process all over again. After five years of waiting, it doesn’t sound like Halvorsen or Clark are jumping at the chance to start the process all over again.
“The fundamental problem is the clock is running here and we’re going to run out of time,” Halvorsen said. “The minute that corps permit runs out, it’s done.”
Anyone familiar with this project knows that it’s been a regular game of back-and-forth between DNR and the private developers. The Olympic View Marina partners made it through the tedious permitting process, gaining approval from agencies like the federal National Marine Fisheries Services, the Army Corps of Engineers, the state departments of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife, and even area tribes. DNR officials also signed off on the project during the permitting process.
But in the last year it’s been the details of the lease that have caused all the trouble. Here’s links to previous stories I’ve written in the last year that explain what’s happened with the lease up to this point.
- In February 2010 developers took advantage of a fish window, or a time designated by fish and wildlife that allowed them to work under water without negatively impacting habitat. DNR officials told the marina group it couldn’t do any of its work on state-owned lands because a lease was not in place. (Read that story here).
- An agreement was later put in place allowing the developers to operate on a month-to-month lease. (Read that story here).
- The plan was to have a final lease agreement in place in time for the developers to take advantage of the next fish window in July 2010. But that window came and went and developers were still without a final lease in September 2010. (Read that story here).