News

Pier permitting goes backward

Oak Harbor’s plans to build a municipal pier on the downtown waterfront ran into a couple of obstacles recently, which basically sends the long permitting process for the project back to square one.

But the good news is that Congress is in the process of replacing $200,000 for the pier project that was taken out of a federal transportation appropriations bill earlier this year.

All the while, city officials are still pushing ahead with the project.

The plan, originally proposed by former Mayor Steve Dernbach, was to rebuild the Maylor Pier, which burned down in the 1960s. A volunteer committee and the city’s consultant have done extensive research and held public meetings in order to create the current design, which is a Y-shaped structure with one permanent leg extending 300-feet out from Flintstone Park.

But the city recently hit a snag in the long and arduous permitting process required for building a pier in an age of endangered salmon.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is requiring a mitigation plan and an eel grass survey, both of which will likely push the cost up by thousands of dollars.

A mitigation plan means the city has to find a way to create or improve shoreline habitat for sea life that makes up for the habitat that will be destroyed by the pier. Eel grass is very valuable habitat for baby salmon.

Marina Harbormaster Dave Williams, the new project manager for the pier, said the city’s consultant for the pier, Seattle-based Peratrovich, Nottingham and Drage, is looking at ways to mitigate the impact of the pier both on-site and off-site.

The options may include making the pier longer “to move it off the shoreline,” Williams said, or to improve habitat at the Freund Marsh across from the Albertson’s store.

The estimated cost for the eel grass study is $15,000 and the cost for creating a mitigation plan is estimated at about $30,000. The costs may by borne by the city budget. Yet Williams said it is unknown what the cost of actually implementing the mitigation plan will be or how it will be paid for.

Also, Williams said the requirements mean the city is “essentially starting over” with the permitting process. He said an optimistic estimate would be that it will take another 18 months to get through the permitting process.

So far, the only permit the city has received is a Department of Natural Resources permit for dredge disposal.

“We remain hopeful that we are going to be able to make this happen,” Williams said. “The requirements of a mitigation plan and eel grass study represent setbacks, but from all indications we still have a permitable project.”

Currently, Williams said the city is doing an in-house review of all the funding options for the pier. The cost of constructing the pier is estimated at $3.5 million. Williams said they’re looking at every grant possibility, as well as a possible bond issue.

In Washington D.C., it seems Congressman Rick Larsen has been successful in getting $200,0000 in construction funds for the Oak Harbor pier into a supplemental bill.

The pier project is been billed as a transportation hub. The dream is that passenger ferries and seaplanes will pick up passengers on the pier.

Charla Neuman, Larsen’s communications director, said the bill is “certain to pass” with the $200,000 for the pier intact. The supplemental bill largely contains extra funding for anti-terrorism efforts.

“There’s no way Congress won’t pass it,” she said.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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