Parks money could launch sheriff’s boat

The Island County Sheriff’s Office could be going amphibious.

Funds doled out by Washington State Parks would provide enough money to repair the department’s Vietnam-era Boston Whaler and augment marine safety services. The Board of Island County Commissioners gave the sheriff the green light Monday to formally apply for the funds.

State Parks works with 52 agencies and 34 counties in the state to promote marine safety for recreational boating. The amount of money given to the local governments is based on the number of vessels registered in the county. The sheriff’s office would receive just over $39,000.

Sheriff Mark Brown said the county has not participated in the program since 1999. His vision is to make his office much more seaworthy.

“The former administration felt we didn’t have the manpower needed to make this happen,” Brown said. “And manpower is still a concern, but we want to get back in the program.”

“The reality is that the Island County citizens are paying for this service and it should go to the citizens,” added Undersheriff Kelly Mauck. Each registered vessel contributes $4.50 to the fund pool.

Marine safety is a large umbrella, considerably more involved than simple search and rescue, the sheriff said.

“Everyone thinks it’s just about rescue, but it’s about enforcement, it’s about motor safety education,” he said. “Our officers put on classes, they do ramp checks where they check for flotation devices on boats. And they also check to make sure the boats are registered. So, they do a lot of things other than just safety.”

The sheriff’s office receives assistance from the county’s fire districts. Brown said it would be nice to make the relationship a little more quid pro quo.

“They provide us exceptional help in our search and rescue efforts,” he said. “They’re often Johnny-on-the-spot. We would like to help them as well.”

Deputies have undergone refresher training with Mark Kenny, State Parks boating law enforcement coordinator. A stipulation of the fund usage is that the sheriff’s office have one boat operational. Approximately $12,000 will go towards repairing the Boston Whaler.

“We can use the rest of the money for equipment, for overtime to have officers do enforcement, public education material, waterway marking,” Mauck said. “There’s a lot of flexibility in how you use the money, but it must be used in conjunction with recreational boating.”

Island County’s geographical location makes solid marine safety services crucial — even a matter a life and death.

“We’re Island County. We’re surrounded by water,” Mauk said. “What more appropriate place to have a marine safety unit than here?”

The $39,000 will be a much-needed shot in the arm for the department’s marine safety program, but if Brown is successful in securing a $456,000 federal grant, the boon will be immeasurable. The money would put the department’s 22-foot Almar back on the water and purchase another boat that Nichols Brothers in Freeland might build. The sheriff will find out in September if his office is the recipient.

The county commissioners expressed concern at last Wednesday’s staff session whether the program would be sustainable if the grant did not come through.

“Undersheriff Mauck and I said ‘yes’, because we will have an operational boat, which is what’s required at this point,” Brown said.

With the commissioners signed off on moving forward, the money will now take a circuitous route to Olympia and back to the sheriff’s office. The funds will help pay for some services the deputies are already providing.

“We’re already expending money from our existing budget on marine safety,” Mauck said. We’re just simply falling short and not providing boating patrols and other services. This will really beef it up. We’re going to give it our best shot. We have nothing to lose.”

Commissioner John Dean, like his two colleagues, was overall supportive of applying for the funds.

“As a county surrounded by Puget Sound, it makes a lot of sense for us to get our mothballed sheriff boats running again and back in the water,” he said. “I know the county’s recent lack of participation in maritime safety has been a concern of island deputies and fire departments around the county. I am confident the sheriff will now find a way to sustain the program. We need to have it.”

As the county continues to grow, and as U.S. Coast Guard resources go to national security, Dean said the county can no longer ignore the large numbers of island boaters and visiting vessels navigating the surrounding waters.

“I am also pleased that the program may help ease some of the serious congestion problems facing boaters and adjacent neighborhood at some of the county’s crowded launching ramps,” he added.

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