Opinion

No walking on a dream | Editorial

The Oak Harbor municipal pier returned to “dream” status when the city council voted Sept. 19 to not accept a promised $836,000 federal transportation grant meant to push the project along.

It would only have been a down payment on a project estimated to cost $6.3 million way back in 2005. It made the news then because the pier committee, appointed in 1998, had finally obtained all necessary permits after seven years of effort.

Patty Cohen, mayor at the time, called the news a “major milestone.” It was predicted that the pier, envisioned as a modern version of the historic pier that burned in the 1960s, would be designed within a year. Dave Williams, harbormaster at the time,  said that if all went well, construction could begin in 2007.

A lot of money went into the project, including a $440,000 contract with an  engineering firm for final design and engineering. That brought project costs to $700,000 through 2005, most covered by grants. The city had spent $175,000 from its general fund, and even more has been spent since.

Unfortunately, the project stalled. The grant finally rejected Sept. 19 would have required a $250,000 city match, and that still left the city millions of dollars short to finish the project. Grant options apparently dried up with the recession, as did any interest from would-be passenger ferry providers, and the pier hit a dead end.

It took years for the council to admit further funding was not forthcoming. A plan to build only the upland portion of the project, including waiting room, meeting room and new restrooms, seemed cynical when no money was available for the actual pier. So the council gave up the city’s right to the grant money, as suggested by the federal government.

Danny Paggao, city councilman and mayor pro-tem, having witnessed all the years of effort that has gone into the pier, and all the hopes that were dashed with admission that no funding can be found in the foreseeable future, refused to call the project dead, instead saying it is in “hibernation.” The full council agreed to keep the project alive on paper, as part of the city’s long-range plan.

Councilwoman Beth Munns expressed no desire to “give up on the dream of the pier.” But that’s all it is, and that’s extremely bad news for the city and all the volunteers who spend so many years planning and promoting what was to be the key to a revitalized downtown. It’s a dream all right, but it’s a sad one that people are unlikely to ever walk on.

 

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