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Pier project procures permits

One year from now, the Y-shaped Oak Harbor municipal pier will be completely designed, engineered, permitted and ready to be built.

The only thing standing in the way is $6.3 million.

Tuesday, Oak Harbor Marina Harbormaster Dave Williams announced at the council meeting that the city and its consultants have finally succeeded in permitting the project after seven years of work. Mayor Patty Cohen called it a “major milestone.”

“I can finally say that the permits are in the mail,” said William Gerken, consulting engineer from PND Inc.

If all goes well, Williams predicts that construction could begin in 2007. The pier is envisioned as a vital transportation link for passenger-only ferries, a place for tour boats to stop, a recreational facility for boaters and seaplane pilots, and a major tourism draw that has been folded into Roger Brooks’ overall downtown tourism plan.

The council unanimously approved a $440,000 contract with the engineering firm PND Incorporated for final design and engineering of the pier. The work is expected to take about a year.

In the meantime, Williams said consultants and members of the citizens advisory committee on the pier will look into ways to raise the $6.3 million needed to build the structure at Flintstone Park, which will be across from Mi Pueblo on Bayshore Drive. There are many different possible state, federal and private grant opportunities out there.

Cohen thanked the members of the pier committee, particularly co-chairs Helen Chatfield-Weeks and Doug Francis.

“They are such a dedicated group of individuals,” she said. “If we were to try to count the hours of stick-to-it-ness required, we would truly be surprised.”

The design of the pier has evolved over the years. It was originally envisioned by former Mayor Steve Dernbach as a replacement for the Maylor Pier, which burned down in the mid-1960s. He set up the citizen advisory committee in 1998.

“They had the task of beginning with a blank sheet of paper,” Williams said.

The facility will be a Y-shaped, fixed wood pier with concrete floats beside it, with ramps in between. The approach pier will be 176 foot, which was longer than originally envisioned in order to protect delicate near-shore habitat.

The longer of the two arms of the pier will be 270 feet long. This “commercial arm” is for passenger ferries and tour boats. The other arm will be 210 feet. It’s designed for recreational boats. At the end will be a float for seaplanes.

Wave barriers on the west side will protect the entire structure from storm action in the bay.

The current design includes a number of structures. It includes a small building at the intersection of the Y, for use as a shelter or ticket booth. Another shelter will be at the end of the commercial arm, which will be an outlook.

On the shore will be a building for restrooms, concessions and an interpretive center. A ceremonial plaza is also planned for the point near the condominiums.

Williams said the committee did a phenomenal amount of research on its own and also worked with consultants to refine the plans and obtain necessary permits from an alphabet soup of government entities.

Williams said a dozen permits were required from the Department of Ecology, the Department of Natural Resources, National Marine Fisheries, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Each one required a small mountain of paperwork, as well as expensive studies, intense negotiations, and in some cases, mitigation work.

The city, for example, had to plant eel grass to mitigate the impact of the pier.

So far, nearly $700,000 has been invested into the pier project, including the $440,000 for final engineering and design. It has come from two grants from the Regional Transportation Policy Organization, totaling $323,000; $200,000 from the Federal Ferry Boat Discretionary Program; and $175,000 from the city’ general fund.

Williams said there may be a lot of different funding opportunities for the pier construction. Currently, $1 million for the pier is earmarked in the federal Transportation Equity Act — a Legacy for Users (TEA-LU), which required a city match of $250,000.

Williams said he also plans to apply for a $1 million grant, with a $250,000 match, from the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation; and a $250,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation for the seaplane-related portion.

The pier may be attractive to granting agencies, he said, because it’s envisioned as part of a Puget Sound-wide passenger ferry system that will connect into other modes of mass transportation.

The Cascadia Institute, which is under the auspices of the Gates Foundation, recently did a study which placed Oak Harbor as the only stop on Whidbey Island in a north-south passenger ferry route from Bellingham to Mukilteo.

With increased highway crowding, Williams predicts that passenger ferries will be the wave of the future.

“It’s too logical not to happen,” he said. “The question is when.”

Williams said idea of asking the voters to pass a levy — to pay for the portion of the pier which grants don’t cover — is not “on the table” but committee members “have not ruled out any course of action to come up with funding.”

Of course, anyone who wants to donate $6.3 million is more than welcome. Williams said the city will even name the pier after whoever donates the money.

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

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