Owner of boat linked to Steinbeck wants port to lower his fees
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The untouched Western Flyer sits distinctively among its neighbors in the Port of Port Townsend boatyard. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The owner of a historic boat that has been on blocks in the Boat Haven since July without any storage fees paid has asked the Port of Port Townsend to renegotiate terms.

“We would ask you to review benignly the $2,000 rental fee [per month] for the rear area of the Port (as this is higher than the rent on a four-bedroom house),” wrote Gerry Kehoe, owner of the Western Flyer, one used by the late Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck, in an Oct. 1 email to port Director Larry Crockett.

“This is a historic vessel merely parked there on a long-term basis [and] is not using any of the wide ranging amenities of the port,” said Kehoe, a Salinas, Calif., businessman.

Crockett responded with a proposal to forgive $200 in late fees as long as Kehoe pays the full amount of $10,099 by Oct. 20.

In a Sept. 23 email, Kehoe criticized the port for collecting environmental fees and wrote that “the port surely has a long-term rate for a back lot piece of sand and gravel and these invoices can be adjusted, especially for the Western Flyer.”

The 72-foot derelict vessel was built by Tacoma’s Western Boat Building Co. in 1937 and was chartered in 1940 by Steinbeck and a friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts, for a six-week expedition to Mexico’s Gulf of California.

Ricketts became the model for the character of Doc in Steinbeck’s 1945 Cannery Row.

A native of Salinas, Steinbeck, who died in 1968, won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. His novel The Grapes of Wrath won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.

Kehoe purchased the Western Flyer in 2010 for an undisclosed price, raised it from where it was submerged near Anacortes and had it towed to Port Townsend.

He intends to restore it and transport it to a Steinbeck museum in inland Salinas.

Kehoe has not paid the port anything since bringing the vessel into the Boat Haven in early July, aside from a required $25,000 “derelict deposit,” port officials said.

Crockett wrote Kehoe that the land at the back of the property has the same power, water and fire flow as the rest of the Boat Haven and has been ballasted in order to accommodate a 300-ton lift.

“We have two other vessels parked immediately next to the Western Flyer paying full rate,” Crockett wrote.

“With the commercial fishing fleet returning from Alaska, all our spaces in the yard are in demand.”

Crockett also wrote that environmental fees are assessed by the state and are not under the port’s control.

Kehoe did not return an emailed request for comment Tuesday.

In his Sept. 23 email to Crockett, Kehoe also complained about “continual threats” from the media as well as the publication of the invoice amount by both the Peninsula Daily News and the Port Townsend-Jefferson County Leader.

Kehoe wrote that “the hype perpetrated by your media prevents us from taking the appropriate action with this important vessel and therefore [the vessel] is there until the hype dies down,” a statement that Crockett said “sounded like a threat.”

Crockett told Kehoe that the port is a governmental agency and that all its records are subject to public-records requests from any citizen.

The port was due to send out a 60-day notice of a potential impound Oct. 1, but that was delayed because the port and Kehoe are negotiating.

Once he receives the notice, if he does not make a payment, he will be given a 90-day notice. If there is still no payment, an auction will proceed within 10 days.

Kehoe has until the time of the auction to make a full payment. If he has paid the bill by then, his deposit will be refunded in full.

If the auction proceeds, the port will collect past-due fees from a combination of the deposit and the auction amount, and return the remainder to Kehoe, Crockett said.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 08. 2013 6:42PM
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