Marina power outage declared emergency

A recent power outage at the Oak Harbor Marina is officially an urgent concern.

A recent power outage at the Oak Harbor Marina is officially an urgent concern, which means the city can move forward quicker with fixes.

At an Oak Harbor Council work session Wednesday, the members unanimously passed a declaration of emergency for the city-owned facility.

On Saturday, March 16, an electrician found a serious electrical system failure causing a power line to arc, cutting power to the E, F and G docks, said Parks and Rec Director Brian Smith at the meeting.

The sheathing on two cables in the conduit underwater wore through and shortened each other out, said Sabrina Combs, interim city administrator.

The conduit was “gurgling,” alerting staff, said Mike Droe, a boat owner in the marina.

The power outage affects 120 vessels, including liveaboards, rendering useless boat batteries, refrigerators, bilge pumps, security cameras, Wi-Fi, dock safety lighting, channel markers and more. Obviously, this creates serious safety, security and navigational hazards, Smith said.

If boat batteries are dead, bilge pumps will not come on, Combs said. This means that if the boat is taking on water, it may fill with water and sink.

Droe showed up to the marina the day after the power went out to a dead battery, he said. After following up with marina staff, he was told they were waiting on a second bid from a contractor to get it fixed. Then it would be two to three weeks for the parts to come in. After that, it would be another week of labor.

He immediately considered guest mooring in Anacortes or La Conner, he said, but for the time it would take for the Oak Harbor Marina to restore power, the bill would be very expensive.

Droe said he had greater concerns for the liveaboards. He wasn’t sure what an alternative heat source would be for them.

Any liveaboard that has requested to be moved to a dock with electricity has been moved, Smith said, and staff are continuously checking with the liveaboards who decided to stay put to make sure they are safe.

That said, there may be space limitations for relocating all of them, he said.

Droe does not point fingers, he said, but believes this deserves an emergency declaration to skip the bidding process and get it fixed faster.

“I don’t blame or hold the staff accountable or anything like that,” he said. “These are things that happen when power is across the water.”

According to Smith, underwater wiring is a big part of the problem, as is old infrastructure.

“The marina is 50 years old,” he said. “It is starting to show its age, despite the best efforts of our outstanding marina staff.”

Two cables need to be replaced, he said, one going from junction box 1, 1.5 feet underwater, to junction box 2. The other is a failed feeder connecting junction box 1 and 4. Conduits have separated from junction boxes, allowing water in. Protective sleeving and casing, with time, is worn out as well.

Smith is in talks with contractors trying to find the best solution, he said. The job is estimated to cost around $71,000-$75,000 and could still take up to a month even skipping the formal bidding process. The cost will come from the marina fund, which is largely from mooring fees paid by boaters.

A former council member had been the canary in the coal mine years ago for this problem, said Councilmember Shane Hoffmire.

“I know it’s an emergency at this point because the power’s out, but it’s something that we probably had a pretty good idea that we were going to have issues like this,” he said.

About a year ago, a marina business plan was presented to council. In it, one of two critical concerns was the decaying infrastructure.

While they are addressing the current emergency, the entire marina could soon be in a similar state, said Harbormaster Chris Sublet. A windstorm could cause the same problem to other junction boxes.

“Everything in the marina is underwater and a super challenge to maintain,” he said.

Smith is looking into options for running the wire on the dock and not underwater, he said, hopefully barring tripping hazards.

The cost of upgrading the entire marina could be much, much higher than this current fix, Smith said.

While it seemed the council was scratching the surface of a larger problem, the recommended action was declaring an emergency to restore power to three docks.

“It’s not like we’re going to say we’re not going to do this,” Councilmember Bryan Stucky said, “so I’m going to make the motion.”

The junction boxes at the Oak Harbor Marina haven't been updated since the 1990s. (Photo provided)