LEASE DECISION NOW IN STATE AGENCY’S HANDS

 

By Nancy Walbeck

American staff writer

 

While the first phase of MJB’s $3.3 million South Dock marina project moves closer to its first public-hearing date, city and Port officials still want to know what a key ;public agency has planned for Fidalgo Bay.

The South Dock marina at 2600 T Ave. will have a boat storage yard, dry-stack storage building, two elevators and two floats in the first phase of development.  A more ambitious and still uncertain phase two will follow, a plan that calls for using five acres of adjacent tidelands controlled by the state Department of Natural Resources.

 But MJB’s long-developed plans were somewhat derailed when the Port of Anacortes submitted its own marina plan for the same five-acre parcel some months ago.   Since the, DNR has sought the Anacortes City Council’s opinions on what they want to see developed on that shoreline.

For several week, the city has reviewed and re-assessed what best fits on the bay, such as marine-related jobs and public access, among others.  Last week, council members approved forwarding a list of shoreline criteria to DNR, but also included a surprise - its strong recommendation to approve MJB’s tidelands application.

City council members, with the exception of Jeanne Robinette and Bud Rock said the Port had failed to demonstrate how it would benefit more than one business, compared to MJB’s plan for broad marina-related activity.  Council member Nick Petrish ran through a list of a half-dozen reasons for backing MJB, a conclusion backed by most council members.

Further, the decision reached last week came after several weeks of meetings among council members, Port and city officials as well as MJB principals.  Council member Terry Christiansen said it was an attempt to find an alternative location for the Port’s boat/trailer congestion, which needs to be moved from the Cap Sante Marina area.

Port director Risk Aschieris said its plan at South Dock would have addressed that need, as well as provide some public access.

But Petrish said he and others preferred MJB’s privately funded venture, one that would get boats in the water.  Further, MJB’s plan has been outlined for years, while Port officials still were locked in the early planning stages.

“I have been getting letters, phone calls, contacts and business interests in the community saying MJB is best because it is marina-related,” Petrish said.  “Also, people need to determine what MJB is, and what it can do” for the community.

Aschieris said this week he doesn’t take the negative vote “personally” and says the Port and city will have many more “opportunities” to work on similar projects and ideas.  As well, Aschieris was looking forward to a meeting this week with Jennifer Belcher in Olympia accompanied by Mayor Dean Maxwell.  Belcher is Commissioner of Public Lands and is in charge of DNR.

MJB owner Gary Merlino and project manager Dan Dingfield have met twice with Belcher, meetings that Dingfield termed “optimistic.”  At stake is more than five acres of tidelands on Fidalgo Bay because MJB plans to develop 60 acres of eelgrass beds, 10 times more than the original Fidalgo Bay plan called for.  Initially the city, Port and MJB agreed on six acres, with possible implementation beginning this summer.  But this more ambitious proposal, if successful, would provide development “credits” far beyond what was expected.

Shoreline development has been constrained here and throughout the state, because eelgrass is crucial to the aquatic food chain.  It is difficult to grow, but some areas of Fidalgo Bay have thriving beds.  Developers on the bay, including MJB, want to show the state eelgrass can be grow elsewhere.  If those efforts are successful, eelgrass-mitigation credits will accrue.  Those then can be used for shoreline development as a trade-off.

Dingfield said MJB wants to move forward with the 60-credit plan because it will allow more marina-related development, especially at the north end of the firm’s property.  City council members have largely agreed with that idea and endorsed it in the same letter sent to DNR last week.  But council members still want to retain some control over where those credits are distributed.

MJB disagrees, saying the mitigation credits go with ownership. Dingfield said the firm can split the 60 credits with DNR, who could use those elsewhere, while some will remain for local development.