PORT ANGELES — Karen Goschen, Port of Port Angeles executive director, explained to a business group this week the basis of the port’s decision to consider leasing or selling John Wayne Marina, options that a statewide port association official said go against the grain for most public ports in Washington.
Goschen, appearing Tuesday morning before the Port Angeles Business Association (PABA), questioned if the port running the 300-slip Sequim Bay facility meets the countywide tax district’s goal of creating living-wage jobs and fostering economic prosperity throughout the county or into an asset “localized” to the Sequim area.
The city of Sequim has expressed an interest in having the marina transferred to the city and have the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe operate the facility.
“The question we are asking, is the port, with its mission of economic development, the best owner of that property or the best manager of that property,” she said.
“It’s a matter of having a community conversation.”
Eric D. Johnson, the head of the 75-member state Public Ports Association, said in a later interview that most ports’ want to keep their waterfront facilities publicly owned.
“It’s not common for ports to sell waterfront, period, because they’ve only got so much waterfront,” Johnson said.
“Most ports who have it, have it on behalf of the community.
“They don’t want to sell it because they aren’t making any more of it.”
He said port marinas and airports are similar in some respects.
“Waterfront and airports and marinas, those are things that you don’t have others lying around.
“Ports tend to be protective of these rare community assets.”
At the same time, like the Port of Port Angeles, many communities are looking at depreciating marina assets and asking how much they want to invest back into the facilities, Johnson said.
“There are community assets, like waterfront amenities, that are hard to charge for,” he said.
Port officials have said any transfer arrangement from port management or different ownership of the property would include keeping the facility public and an obligation by a leasee to maintain the facility and make infrastructure improvements estimated to cost $26 million between 2023-2038.
Port officials say they don’t know yet if a new owner or management entity would have the power to set rates — and stress the port has not made a decision on its future.
Typically, a public entity that owns a marina retains it to keep control of moorage rates and maintenance, Johnson said.
A danger in leasing a marina lies in a lease running out and a port ending up with a depleted asset that is expensive to replace, Johnson said.
“That’s why most public entities say we will operate it ourselves and keep up on the maintenance,” he said.
Goschen told PABA the port has money to invest but faces the question of where to spend it.
“Is it better to put it into living wage jobs or is it better to maintain a recreational asset that is very important to the community?” she said.
“The reason we are looking at John Wayne Marina is that there are very few jobs that are created, and they are not well-paying jobs.”
The marina generates 73 direct and indirect jobs, compared to the Port Angeles Boat Haven, which generates 253 jobs.
“The marina is the lowest job producer of all the assets we own,” John Nutter, port director of properties, marinas and airports, said Wednesday.
John Wayne Enterprises, whose predecessor, Wayne Enterprises, transferred tidelands and uplands to the port in 1981 for a public marina, says that the marina stay in the port’s hands and cannot be transferred from the port without JWE’s consent.
Port officials say they are collaborating with JWE on the marina’s future.
Port officials also are proceeding with issuing a request for information (RFI) from potential buyers and leasees on their vision of the facility’s future, rejecting a request by JWE, which has hired a lawyer to represent its interests, to delay issuance of the RFI until after JWE conducts its own study of options for the marina and its own property.
JWE owns 105 acres that can be developed adjacent to the marina.
The marina lies within the Sequim city limits and has a market value of $7.7 million, according to the Clallam County Assessor’s Office.
During her presentation on Tuesday, Goschen highlighted the continued importance of the North Olympic Peninsula’s timber industry.
She touted the “strategic role” of the port’s log yard in creating jobs and cited the port’s active role in promoting new forest-product innovations such as cross-laminated timber and thermally-modified hemlock.
The forest-products industry pays an average wage of $55,484 a year, supporting 1.3 indirect-induced jobs per position, while the boatbuilding industry, which the port is trying to attract as it develops its Marine Trades Industrial Park, offers an average $45,767 income and supports .58 indirect-induced jobs per position, Goschen said.
That compares to tourism-related industries’ $18,380 a year and .14 indirect-induced jobs per position.
Many public ports, especially those with marinas built in the 1970s, are facing capital improvement issues, Johnson said.
“That’s what they’ve got general tax levies for, or moorage rates,” Johnson said.
Port commissioners have rejected the option of increasing taxes to pay for marina improvements.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@ peninsuladailynews.com.