It was standing room only at the meeting between Port of Port Townsend staff and members of the Marine Trades Association. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Marine Trades Association members speak up on Port Townsend port hikes

PORT TOWNSEND — More than 120 people crowded in and around the Port of Port Townsend administrative building as port staff and commissioners and members of the Marine Trades Association discussed a need for more regular communication between port officials and lease holders.

The nearly 2½-hour meeting Wednesday night circled mostly around the issues of communication and rate hikes.

At the end of the gathering, it was agreed that the port and the Marine Trades Association (MTA) will need to schedule regular meetings.

“The general feeling was that it went well,” said Gwendolyn Tracy, a member of the Port Townsend MTA. “I was thankful Pete was willing to go as long as was reasonable.”

Early on in the meeting, Commissioner Pete Hanke specified that the meeting was meant to open lines of communication and it was in everyone’s best interest to be civil.

“This isn’t a get-the-port night,” Hanke said, asking that people stop clapping after each comment from one of the more than 100 people sitting and standing at Wednesday night’s meeting.

Hanke agreed that lines of communication between the port and the MTA should have been part of the port’s regular business long before it got to this point.

“It would have behooved us to have this meeting six or nine months ago,” he said. “We’re sorry. Lesson learned. Let’s keep the discussion going.”

The discussion will continue, according to Tracy, who said she and other members of the MTA are moving forward with the port commissioners and staff to establish regular meetings with smaller groups of MTA members and port lease holders.

The meeting was requested by the MTA to discuss recent and proposed future rate hikes for port property and how those rates could negatively affect the local marine trades.

“We’d been trying for a long time, but we weren’t being heard by staff,” Tracy said. “We began to recognize that, so we went to the commissioners and found out what they also need from us.”

Throughout the past few years, the port has raised rates for businesses and boats on port property as one way to increase revenue to pay for the port’s long list of expensive capital projects.

“We are trying to figure out how to pay for a breakwater, how to pay for stormwater, how to pay for a jetty replacement, any of which could shut this organization down,” said Sam Gibboney, port executive director.

“I want to be very clear about the impact the capital projects have on this organization.”

Port commissioners approved moorage rate hikes in February of 10 percent to 16 percent, depending on the size of the vessel. Boat owners in the Boat Haven, Point Hudson and Herb Beck marinas saw increases of $27 to $43 per month, and up to a $61 increase for larger vessels.

For vessels under 50 feet, that meant rates of $230 to $534 per month for permanent moorage.

Lease rates for boat yard properties are negotiated with business owners and are dependent on the size of the space. A recent lease approved for PYR Inc. in June started at no charge until Dec. 30, with the lease going up to 42 cents per square foot until June 2018, then jumping to 84 cents per square foot for a 6,600-square-foot property.

Commissioner Brad Clinefelter said the port is digging itself out of a hole due to years of mismanagement by past administrations.

Many of the small-business owners and MTA members cautioned port commissioners and staff against more rate increases, which they said could price out those businesses that not only provide revenue for the port but also are an important part of the culture of Port Townsend.

“It can be done what we’re trying to do here, working together,” said Corey Armstrong of ACI Boats.

“There are other areas and other choices for businesses to go to, and the yard’s not full. We’d be better off with a full yard of like-minded businesses.”

Said Ernie Baird, former owner of Haven Boatworks: “If you allow the trades to do their business, they bring economic gain to the community. The rates currently posted aren’t viable for the businesses here.”

Another major issue was the schedule for the Point Hudson south jetty replacement. Work in the summer next year potentially could disrupt major economic drivers such as tourism and the Wooden Boat Festival, said members of the audience.

“In those summer months, we do 65,000 to 90,000 customers,” said Rafael Alvarez, chef at Docs Marina Grill. “I’m trying to ask if that can be taken into consideration.”

Hanke said the port will perform an economic study to find the best time to do the jetty replacement to inflict the least amount of damage to businesses that rely on tourism.

Hanke pointed out that due to protected fish migrations, underwater work at Point Hudson can be done only from July 15 to Feb. 15 and that construction in the fall and winter could cost more because of increased wind and storm activity.

While no decisions have been finalized for Point Hudson, port staff noted that they would plan to open the marina and halt construction for the week of the Wooden Boat Festival in September.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at cmcfarland@peninsuladailynews.com.