Cornet Bay dock sale put on hold

The county-owned boat dock at Cornet Bay is old and dilapidated, no one disputes that. The surface is uneven, with holes rotted through many of the boards on the uneven patchwork decking.

Many of the boats moored there are not much prettier; commercial boats with peeling paint, pleasure craft that are more work than pleasure. At even a moderately low tide many of the boats sit high and dry.

Still, a group of Cornet Bay residents attended Island County Commissioners’ meeting Monday to plead the county to reconsider its plan to sell the dock. The commissioners had recently declared the dock and parking area surplus, the first step in selling it publicly.

Hugh Johnson, a former lawyer who lives across Cornet Bay Road from the dock, spoke for the group.

“I ask you to honor the trust the voters placed in you, and do the right thing,” he said. “I can’t tell you what that is.”

Until the commissioners received a petition signed by more than a dozen Cornet Bay residents and heard from several at the meeting, they thought the right thing was to sell the dock.

Commissioner Mac McDowell said they had been concerned about the cost of upkeep and liability to the county, weighing the value of the facility against the cost.

Former County Parks Director Lee McFarland reported to the board in October that replacing the decking, 230 feet of floats and six pilings on the 600-foot dock would cost $45,000 to $50,000. Total dock replacement was estimated at more than half a million dollars, prompting the commissioners to move toward surplusing it.

Volunteer offers impress commissioners

McDowell said he changed his mind and made the motion to not proceed with the sale after hearing from the group. He was particularly swayed by the testimony that the dock provided access to nearby tiny Binure Island, which has several full time residents who rely on the dock for transport.

“I wouldn’t lightly take away a transportation link,” he said. He was also impressed that the group would step forward to volunteer their labor in maintaining the facility.

Currently the county has a contract with Cornet Bay resident Bud Rogers for $200 per month to collect fees and perform simple maintenance on the dock.

The dock, which is the only one the county owns, is not a big money maker, and in fact the cost of fully repairing it would exceed funds available. That was one reason the commissioners decided to surplus it.

In December there was $32,000 in the dock account, with about $6,000 of that coming from dock fees. The county used to charge $100 a year for moorage, but last year increased that to $200.

Group cites dock’s historical value

Under former County Parks Director Lee McFarland, the county purchased floats to replace the current ones, but they are sitting unused in the county’s Patmore Road facility. Current Parks Director Terry Arnold didn’t know anything about them other than that installation was apparently hung up on a permitting snag.

McFarland could not be reached for comment. County Budget Director Elaine Marlow said they must have been purchased prior to 2000, as her records don’t show a purchase after that.

Those attending the commissioners’ meeting were as concerned with the historical worth of the dock as they were with its utilitarian value.

Connie Arnold, 89, told the commissioners that the dock was the site of the original ferry terminal providing passage to Fidalgo Island, long before the Deception Pass bridge was built. Arnold later shared memories of “rum runners” using the dock to bring contraband liquor to the island during prohibition.

The current dock was built by John Lang, who sold it to the county in 1940 for $1. The deed stipulated that the county must maintain the float and dock “as long as public convenience requires.”

The dock is home to several commercial fishing boats, which can’t be moored at the adjacent Deception Pass Marina.

“The other one (marina) is for the ‘yachtsy’ crowd, not fishing boats,” Johnson said.

Longtime Cornet Bay resident Arnie Deckwa said the county has a moral obligation to honor the original deed.

“Grandpa Lang gave it to the county on the basis of public need,” he said. “Our county leaders have to abide by that.”

Lang was not Deckwa’s biological grandfather, but was known as Grandpa by the local children.

Deckwa and the others fear what would happen to the dock if it was sold to a private owner.

“A lot of us don’t want to see it go into private hands,” he said.

That option appears to be on hold, as the commissioners agreed to look into keeping the dock as public property.

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