Wharf gets rural development grant, Oak Harbor requests still in question

County commissioners have decided to give restorations at the Coupeville Wharf a lift, but Oak Harbor’s plans for its marina remain in question.

The Island County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday on applications for the Rural County Economic Development Infrastructure Investment Program.

The grant program is designed to support facility projects that help create and retain jobs using money the county receives from a sales tax rebate from the state.

Commissioners accepted the Port of Coupeville’s ask for $870,804 to go toward replacing aging and deteriorated pier pilings that support the wharf.

The port also committed $96,756 of its own funds to complete the nearly million-dollar project.

All of the commissioners spoke to the importance of preserving the historic structure, though Commissioner Jill Johnson said she hopes the port is looking at other funding opportunities.

“I do want to task the port with doing its job to maintain its own assets and to come up with a plan to do so,” Johnson said.

“I’m happy to do my part in supporting this grant,” she later added. “And I’m happy to see their continued efforts.”

Oak Harbor made two requests for this year’s funding cycle, one of which was denied and the other postponed until the city provides more information.

Commissioners notified Oak Harbor staff that they do not believe its request for more than $500,000 to provide alternative access to a parcel of land off Fakkema Road fulfills the intent of the grant program.

During presentations to the board, city staff said one business owned the land and access would potentially create two jobs.

In discussions about the project, commissioners were also concerned that the developers who would benefit most from the project weren’t bearing any of the costs of the road.

“Basically, they had no skin in the game,” said General Services Administration Director Elaine Marlow, as she summarized the county’s response to the request.

Commissioner Janet St. Clair said she thought it was too much money for too small of an economic development impact.

Oak Harbor also submitted an application for $630,000 to purchase and develop a dry-boat storage facility at the marina. The city also proposed re-establishing the service and maintenance aspect of the business to increase service options available at the marina.

The commissioners asked the city to provide a business plan and appraisal of the facility by Oct. 31.

In previous discussion, commissioners said they are less interested in the project for this grant if the city decided to run it will government employees. The description of the grant program states its goal is to improve the economy by creating and maintaining private-sector jobs.

The city has also considered leasing the facilities to private businesses.

Johnson said she’s supportive of the city’s ownership of the facility to “provide some stabilization” in the area and its investment in the marina. She wants to see who will operate the business, what the long-term leases will look like and how the city plans to pay for future improvements.

“I look forward to seeing the business plan,” she said.

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