County weighs requests for infrastructure investment dollars

Oak Harbor is asking Island County for money to purchase a boat-repair and storage facility for its marina.

The city was one of three government entities considered last week by county commissioners for the 2019 Rural Economic Development Infrastructure Investment Program, which is a grant for facility projects that help create and retain on-going “family-wage” jobs.

The city requested $630,000 to purchase and develop Mariners Haven, which currently provides dry-boat storage. The city plans to re-establish the service and maintenance aspect of the business, said Oak Harbor Development Services Director Steve Powers. He told commissioners the city hasn’t decided if it would be best for the city to also run the business or to lease it out to a private enterprise.

“I am going to have some philosophical struggles over if creating government jobs is job creation,” Commissioner Jill Johnson said at the meeting.

Johnson said she wasn’t necessarily saying “no,” but she also wasn’t sure creating public sector jobs aligned with the goals of the grant program.

The city also submitted an application asking for $560,000 to extend Fakkema Road to seven parcels of commercially zoned land. The area is currently only accessible from State Highway 20 by a private driveway that doesn’t meet proper access standards.

The 2,000 linear feet of public road would lead to private investment in the area, Powers said. U-Haul expressed interest in building a facility on some or all of the land, he said. The truck-rental and storage company’s proposal would initially add two jobs with plans to expand.

The Port of Coupeville also added two proposed projects to the mix. Port Executive Director Chris Michalopoulos made the case for $870,804 for pier repairs at the wharf. The caps and piles supporting the structure in the water are rotting and aging, causing the building to flex.

It’s “phase one” in a planned complete renovation of the wharf, Michalopoulos said. He said the repairs will support the businesses inside the building and downtown because of the visitors the historic structure attracts.

“It’s a cultural landmark,” Michalopoulos said.

Commissioners Janet St. Clair and Johnson said they both support the project, but hope the port would also consider outside funding sources, including from the state historic preservation office.

“I’m not interested in preserving another log building when we have another vital economic resource that these funds could be used for,” Johnson said.

The port also applied for $5,667 for a feasibility study on installing high-speed fiber-optic internet infrastructure. The money would be added to a $50,000 grant from the state Community Economic Revitalization Board, $5,000 from Oak Harbor, $5,000 from Whidbey Telecom and $1,000 from Coupeville.

The biggest ask of the day came from the City of Langley. Mayor Tim Callison told the commissioners about the Village by the Sea’s plan to expand utilities to east Langley.

Development in the area is limited by septic capacity, Callison said.

“The improved housing capacity will promote economic development,” he told the commissioners. “I can say that with almost certainty.”

The added density will facilitate more affordable workforce housing, which will help local businesses that have been struggling to hire employees because of the lack of housing on the south end, he said.

Commissioners can distribute about $4 million for this grant cycle. They will discuss which projects to choose at a future work session meeting.

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