SEQUIM — A disagreement has escalated between Port of Port Angeles and Sequim city officials over the future of John Wayne Marina.
The port is appealing the city’s May 25 administrative determination that the shoreline master program unquestionably prohibits the 300-slip public marina, owned by the port and located within the city limits, from being operated by a private entity.
“We have a fundamental disagreement,” port Executive Director Karen Goschen said Thursday.
“When you talk about property rights and the authority of one government agency versus another government agency to manage their property based on their mission, we should have those rights protected.
“It’s a matter of principle.
“We asked that the city and port and Ecology work together on this, and the city chose to be adversarial,” she said.
The nine-page determination was a response to the port’s request for clarity on what the port can and can’t do with the marina, said Sequim City Manager Charlie Bush.
Bush said the city will have to contract with a hearing examiner to hear the appeal.
The city code says appeals must be heard by a board of adjustment, and the city does not have one.
The City Council, which voted April 23 that it “values John Wayne Marina as a public asset,” noted widespread opposition to selling the marina to a private party as part of its resolution.
Port officials are considering the option in light of interest from two private developers and the need for $22 million by 2035 for float, piling and breakwater improvements.
Port commissioners also are considering a Nov. 6 general election ballot measure that would ask voters countywide to approve a 6.4-cents-per-$1,000 levy increase to fund the upgrades.
The administrative determination was authored by Barry Berezowsky, the city Department of Community Development manager-shoreline administrator, and Kristina Nelson-Gross, the city attorney.
They said the city shoreline master program “unambiguously” prohibits private boating facilities and marinas on city shorelines.
“To interpret the city’s Shoreline Master Program as the port suggests is a strained reading and would lead to absurd results,” they said.
Simon Barnhart, port counsel-deputy executive director, said the appeal was filed Wednesday.
“Under a plain reading of the city’s shoreline master program, operation of the John Wayne Marina, as a marina, under private ownership is not prohibited,” it says.
It says the administrative determination “is more restrictive than is necessary given the regulatory controls that are available to the city through both the shoreline master program and the Shoreline Management Act.”
Port board of commissioners President Connie Beauvais also has said the prohibition is not as clear as the city says it is.
Port officials point to a provision that says “new marina development or expansion of existing private marina facilities shall be allowed only in the urban and associated aquatic shoreline environments through a shoreline conditional use permit.”
”The mere reference to ‘expansion of existing private marinas’ does not mean that private marinas are allowed in the City’s current shoreline environments,” Berezowsky and Nelson-Gross responded in the determination.
The state Department of Ecology also agrees with the city’s administrative determination, Rick Mraz, the shorelands technical and regulatory lead for Ecology’s Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program, said in a May 30 email to Berezowsky.
“That person at Ecology does not make the determination on interpretation of law,” Goschen responded.
Beauvais said she was surprised the determination was issued.
“We had just asked them a question, a point of clarification, and they sent a very formal letter back that we had not asked for,” she said Wednesday.
Bush said Goschen, Beauvais and Barnhart had all raised questions in recent weeks that needed to be answered.
“Clearly they were confused, and we wanted to make sure that nobody’s confused,” Bush said.
“For them to say they never requested [the determination] is kind of amazing.”
Goschen said she notified commissioners that she would file an appeal.
Beauvais said the decision to file the appeal was appropriately made at the staff level.
Commissioner Steven Burke said Thursday the appeal had been discussed in executive session.
“All of us want to maintain John Wayne Marina as a public marina,” he said.
Berezowsky said Thursday that privately-owned public marinas also are prohibited.
According to the determination, port officials were concerned about the prohibition on allowing private marinas in the city limits in 2013 when the shoreline master program was adopted “but failed to convince the city to eliminate the prohibition, and the City Council’s decision was not appealed.”
The port’s website at www.portofpa.com says the late actor John Wayne donated 23 acres of land at Pitship Point in 1975 on condition that it be developed as a public marina.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].