A bill that passed the state Senate and is currently being considered in the House of Representatives was tailor made by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen to save Oak Harbor’s marina more than $500,000 over the next decade.
It’s money that would be used to help fix up the aging marina, which badly needs new water and power systems, dredging and new docks.
“This would really help us a lot,” Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik said. “It would allow us to bond for extra money.”
Slowik and City Administrator Paul Schmidt spoke to the House Ecology and Parks Committee Wednesday in favor of the bill that would allow the Department of Natural Resources to enter into aquatic lands management agreements with the city under the same regulations it uses to lease lands to port districts.
As one of the few cities in the state that runs a marina, Oak Harbor has to pay a $58,035 annual fee to the DNR for tideland rentals at the marina. Port districts, which run most marinas in the state, don’t have to pay the water-dependent part of the fee, which is the bulk of the cost.
If Oak Harbor is treated as a port district, the city would save just over $50,000 a year.
In the Senate, Haugen sponsored the bill that eventually passed unanimously after she, Slowik and Schmidt spoke before a Senate committee Jan. 31.
Slowik explained that the original bill, which applied to a few marinas in the state, initially was opposed by the DNR. Haugen negotiated with department officials and changed the bill so that it only applies to Oak Harbor.
“The DNR doesn’t oppose it anymore,” Slowik said. “They like the idea that it will be used to upgrade the infrastructure of the marina.”
The tideland lease fee began skyrocketing in 1993, when it cost only $7,800. City officials have long worked with the state lawmakers to get the fee decreased; they even got the bill to the governor’s desk, only to have it vetoed because of protests from the DNR.
“This is a great economic development opportunity for Oak Harbor and Whidbey Island,” said Haugen. “A simple step like this will help them develop their marina into one that will increase business by attracting recreational boaters to their harbor and tourists into their town.”
Still, the $500,000 savings would only be a drop in the bucket when it comes to implementing the $19 million master plan for the marina.
Slowik said the city is currently in the process of developing a cost estimate for the first phase, which includes dredging in critical areas, constructing a new main walkway with new utilities, building an F dock and replacing existing docks.
In the end, Slowik said the first phase may also be broken into phases.