Boats sit moored at John Wayne Marina near Sequim earlier this year. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Boats sit moored at John Wayne Marina near Sequim earlier this year. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port officials limit choices for marina: Sale to private developer, levy no longer options

PORT ANGELES — Selling John Wayne Marina to a for-profit company or private developer is off the table.

The same is true for a Port of Port Angeles property tax increase that had been considered for the Nov. 6 election. It was suggested as a way to pay for breakwater and float improvements at the port-owned, public Sequim Bay facility.

Port commissioners also decided at their two-hour special meeting Thursday to solicit the interest of local governments — the marina is in the Sequim city limits — as well as tribes and nonprofit entities in acquiring the marina.

The special meeting was held to review comments from July 2 port commissioner meetings in Forks, Port Angeles and Sequim in which residents were mostly opposed to selling to a private developer and to putting a levy on the ballot to fund marina improvements.

“It’s not just about public access, it’s about the sense of community that’s created there,” Crossroads Consulting owner Holly O’Neil told commissioners.

She started the meeting Thursday by reviewing comments penned on 75 surveys about the marina’s future and spoken at the July 2 “listening sessions,” as port officials called them, that drew 101 participants, 80 of whom showed up in Sequim.

O’Neil is the listening-session facilitator whose Bellingham-area firm commissioners want to hire to carry the public process forward past Thursday’s meeting.

Of those who attended the listening sessions or responded to the surveys, 55 percent did so because they opposed selling the marina, O’Neil said.

The overall response was that “most lack confidence that public access would be protected, even with deed restrictions,” according to her presentation.

O’Neil said “mistrust” was a key theme, citing under that heading in her presentation mistrust of the port, mistrust of the process, challenging the port’s legal right to sell the marina and a “determination to fight.”

As the port moves forward, “it’s important we build trust whenever we can,” Sequim-area District 1 Commissioner Colleen McAleer said.

“Obviously, one of the messages was the public doesn’t trust our process.”

Steve Burke, the Port Angeles-area District 2 port commissioner, is a marina user who put forward the motion to seek input from tribes, nonprofits and governments on their interest in acquiring the marina.

“This is about working with [the city of] Sequim, working with the tribes, working with nonprofits to see if they have a good idea.”

Port commission President Connie Beauvais said some important questions remain to be answered about the marina’s infrastructure.

“We are still trying to find the best way to pay for the improvements that need to be made in the future to keep [the marina] the way it is.

“For me, the issue is about, is the port the right entity to do that.”

The port developed the marina in the 1980s on land donated for a marina by the late actor John Wayne.

Wayne’s late son Michael told port officials in 1995 that sale to a private owner “violates the spirit and intent of your original understandings and relationship with the donors.”

Port officials have said that as a recreational facility, John Wayne Marina does not fit the port’s mission to create jobs and that it has yet to generate the remaining $1.3 million from $6.2 million in capital outlay the port spent on building it.

Port Controller Melinda Smithson said detailed financial information is on the port’s website at www.portofpa.com.

It’s instantly available at https://tinyurl.com/PDN-MarinaFinances.

Port officials have said $22 million is needed by 2035 to fund breakwater and float improvements, half of which would have been paid by the levy.

The commissioners’ unanimous rejection of putting the marina up for sale to a private developer — one of three who have contacted the port with interest in buying the 300-slip marina since October 2018 — put in limbo an upcoming hearing examiner hearing on the facility.

After port officials decided in March to consider selling it to a private developer, Sequim city officials said the city shoreline master program does not allow the marina to be privately operated, setting up the hearing examiner showdown.

A hearing is set for Aug. 17.

Simon Barnhart, the port deputy executive director and legal counsel, said after the meeting Thursday that he will talk with Sequim City Attorney Kristina Nelson Gross about whether the port will withdraw the appeal since the commissioners no longer are considering a private owner for the marina.

Sound Law Center of Seattle is providing the hearing examiner under a $5,000 contract with the city of Sequim.

During the public comment session Thursday, Jim Dries of Sequim, one of five commenters, said he was “saddened” by the lack of opportunity for public comment until the end of the meeting, saying it “goes back to that lack of trust.”

A Port Angeles resident said she was “so glad” she was there.

“Something actually happened that did something for me, which is build my trust with you,” she said.

“Let’s not kick the can down the road.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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