Observations at March 20 Port of PT meeting

Port of Port Townsend commissioners and staff met at 1 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2018, at the Port Townsend Yacht Club. More than 100 people were in attendance.
Commissioner Steve Tucker gave an introduction. The topic was Point Hudson south jetty alternative bid schedules. In January, they resolved to eliminate early-start (mid-July) bid proposals, and have the project start in mid-September, after the Wooden Boat Festival*. A week later, they reversed that decision. On March 20, they had to decide whether to ask for bids for the mid-July start date or the mid-September start date, which is estimated to cost 10 percent more.

Engineering firm Mott MacDonald surveyed the jetties several years ago, and is making shitloads of money off the Port of PT as trusted consultants. M&M estimate a September start date "Schedule A" to cost $3.67 million. An alternative to Schedule A would add "wave attenuation," meaning, I think, anchoring and/or tying a big-ass barge to stop waves. That option is estimated to cost $3.87 million. (M&M say they'd need to do a bunch of more tests and analyzing on this idea.)

Schedule B, starting in mid-September, is estimated to cost $4.04 million.

To all of these, add 25%, because of Trump's tariff on foreign steel, which goes in effect this Friday, March 23. It's like a story problem from arithmetic class!

Bill Putney told what he called a "parable," which was the premise of a 1993 Warner Brothers movie called "Dave." Putney said that in the movie, "a community activist ... a job finder" who looks remarkably like the President of the US, helped the federal government find funding for a day-care center. Audience members swiveled their heads to look at one another. Putney then asked for "a show of hands of people who came here to speak in favor of canceling the Wooden Boat Festival." No hands; one or two laughs.

They were gently reminding people not to waste all our time with pointless public comments. "All of us here love the Wooden Boat Festival. All of us are very aware of the economic benefits," Tucker said, asking for "new information," and reminding people to address comments to the commission, not the "audience."
"Really this is not your meeting, this is our meeting, to be conducted in the open so you can see we're not up to any shenanigans," he said. No clapping or booing after public comments, he added.

It was time for Jake Beattie, director of the NW Maritime Center, to talk. By this time, someone had found a microphone and was setting it up. "Tell us about another movie!" someone yelled, around the time these pictures were taken. 

That's Steve Tucker, standing in front of the window. Bill Putney is seated on his right, and Pete Hanke is sitting on his left, next to Abigail Berg, the finance director, and Sue, the public-records person, then there's the guys working on the microphone and Jake Beattie, with his chin in his hand.

At 1 pm, spectators were frustratedly trying to hear from the hallway outside; then Jen from the Marina Cafe led the charge to go in the kitchen and listen from there. When Tucker asked all the people in the kitchen to go stand by the far wall, people in chairs all scooted up to make more standing room. It was nice of them. 

Jake read a letter he'd sent to commission and staff that day, about "the right way to value the public's best interest. ... The decision you make today on which bid packages you put forward ... will affect families whose incomes depend on a good summer season," he said, balancing the "marginal increase to the Port's debt load" against "downtown's business season, th Port's high season." Take the summer options off the table, he said, and the Northwest Maritime Center would offer the net proceeds from this year's Wooden Boat Festival, between $80,000 and $100,000. "This is gonna hurt," he said. People clapped. "No applause!" he said. The donation would cause their programs to be challenged, but it's worth it if it can tip the decision "for the good of all of us."


Bertram Levy spoke next, passing around copies of a chart showing when it gets windiest in Port Townsend. "High wind event in December" is expected. October and November, also windy.

George Yount spoke next. "Jake's offer is very interesting," he said. Of the difference in cost between "doing it in summer or later on," he said maybe the City of PT or the "Main Street folks should help defray that cost." He also suggested getting a "surplus destroyer" from the Bremerton Naval Shipyard to use for wave deflection.

Carol Hasse of Port Townsend Sails said she echoed much of what Jake said, and asked commissioners to delay construction. "Please listen to your community." She is concerned about the proposed design, a 6-foot-wide steel-and-concrete wall, as opposed to "rubble mound" style breakwaters, which is what the existing ones are. There's only one other steel-wall breakwater in the state, Hasse said, a "rusty, scaling, falling-apart" wall at Edmonds, that's only 22 years old. "Rubble-mound breakwaters are the most economical and best at absorbing wave energy," she said; three rubble-mound jetties at the mouth of the Columbia River, built with local materials, 100 years ago, are still working. Not only might the price of steel rise dramatically, she questions the longevity of steel-and-combination wall breakwaters, which have to be sanded and repainted and chipped every 10 years, an expensive maintenance cost, whereas our existing rubble-mounds could be repaired with granite from Washington state. It would cost a lot less.

Then Melinda Bryden spoke. "How many people here today normally follow the Port's finances?" she asked. "I do." The Port has limited resources and a fiduciary responsibility to the entire community, she said. "Sorry, but your $80,000 isn't enough, Jake, just to save the Festival." She suggested asking the City of PT and the NWMC to each put $150,000 into an escrow to mitigate the financial impact of delaying construction."

Bryden does frequent Port meetings, and while I appluad her "watchdog" attitude, I don't understand her motivation. She frequently complains that county taxpayers are paying to keep the Port afloat, and advocates raising moorage and rental rates to match or exceed those in Seattle, Anacortes, Edmonds or Bellingham. However, many people believe raising rates will repel business, and thereby fail to support economic development.

True, the Port is in a tight financial spot. I think the new boat ramp was a waste of money; the recreational fishermen who benefit from it don't spend as much in town as fishermen hauling their boats out here for months at a time. The new Port Administration building (aka the Taj Mahal) was a colossal waste of $1 million. 

Anyway, she sat down and someone else got up to talk: John Holder, wearing a green fleece jacket with the schooner Merrie Ellen logo on it. (Merrie Ellen was built in 1922, and offers sailing vacations in the San Juans and Gulf Islands; visit schoonermerrieellen.com.) The boat's been refit in PT. "I've spent about a million-two here in the last 10 years," Holder said. He asked the commission to please choose the bid option with the September start date. "This is a unique thing," he said. "I'm just asking you, please, find a way ... it's important to ... the whole wooden boat community."

Doug Lamy spoke next, with several interruptions from Steve Tucker to keep him on topic. "I've been working on the fast passenger ferry for almost 5,000 hours," Lamy said. "We should be expanding the marina."

Ron Hayes then stood up. "Jake's offer of $80,000, that's the right thing that has to happen," he said, as should involvement with the City to the tune of $120,000. "I really am enthused that Jake is in on this," he said. "We have to work together. I don't know how we're going to partner on a lease if we can't ... solve it by sitting down and talking."

Then Mari Mullen, executive director of Port Townsend Main Street, spoke. "We're in the middle of a big dig downtown," she said. "We really need a strong summer and a strong fall." She said Kris Nelson employs 72 people, "and in the summer, every day is Saturday."

Then Kris Nelson got up to talk; she owns Sirens Pub, Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar, and The Old Whiskey Mill. "We are small businesses," she said. "Seventy percent of our income comes from summer ...  We of course urge you to start construction in the fall." She said Port director Sam Gibboney's idea to transport people from Boat Haven to downtown (???) would cost money as well.

Bob Downes, a local rigger, said in the prior few days he'd tried to listen to recorded Port Commission meetings, using the Minutes documents available online, but "details in the minutes were wildly inaccurate with respect to the recordings."

Ted Schulberg said he echoes "what Jake and Hasse have said," and that we are all in a predicament. He said we should look at why we are here now, "with Steve, Mel Foster, and" someone else whose name I missed. I heard "Textmen."

Then, Tom Aydelotte (pronounced, wonderfully, "Ate-A-Lot") who owns Doc's Marina Grill at Point Hudson, spoke. He thanked NWMC and said "we'll kick in $20,000 if you start" in September. "All of our money is made in the summer. We lose money in the winter," he said.

Morgan Conrad then suggested selling naming rights for the new jetties. "The Costco Pier, the Amazon Pier, covered with Alexas that you could order stuff from," he said.

Then Chris Hanson, who owns a dive shop in the Port, also asked commissioners to wait until September, and also offered money. "You'll kill us. So I think you should wait. I'll throw some money at making you wait, I don't know how much I can promise," he said.

Then another person spoke, without naming himself, but said he's a New Resident, lived here about 3 years. "If you're concerned about a tariff for steel, you guys could order it now and save some money."

Jan Sprague, a PT resident, told us that walking back from the Wooden Boat Festival one time, she encountered a guy who knew all about antique cannons. The two outside Memorial Field just fill up with garbage and "they're valuable, and could actually bring $100,000 to this," she said. "I know there is opposition to selling those cannons, history and all, but they are from Peru."

Bill Curtsinger of Sunrise Coffee said, "I am really hoping that you hear the message and delay this project until the fall."

Chris Bakken of Sea Marine, the boatyard at Point Hudson, said he would "throw in money, too, and I want to volunteer to coordinate that." He said, "I can't spend as much as Tom," but if people want to contribute, he said, "I volunteer to be that point person, call me up and let's get it done." The Sea Marine phone number is 360-385-4000. Email:   info@seamarineco.com.

Daniel Craig, "a tenant at the Port," said, "I will also contribute."

Ted Schulberg said, "It would benefit all of us if the money went to Jake as a 501c3 because it would be tax deductible."

Dennis Cartwright also spoke but I missed it because I was talking to Kim Carver about Jake getting a 501c3 for all these donations.

Then Kaci Cronkhite, author and sailor, stood up to speak. (By this time, the microphone had stopped being used because there was only a half an hour for public comment and we were down to our last 10 minutes and walking up front was wasting time).

When Kaci stood up, Steve Tucker said, "can you hear her, she's got a little-girl voice." There were a number of audible groans. She gracefully said "little girls grow up to be big girls," and got to the point: asking commissioners not to solicit bids for a July start date. "This is the spirit of the Festival that was born in this community," she said, mentioning the donated money, all the ideas, research like Carol Hasses's. She thanked everybody, and said, "I'm willing to do what I can." It's more than just this town, she said.

Then Steve Tucker made his third or fourth "let's get an auctioneer" joke and said, "we have time for one more comment. Let it be one with a big donation."

It was Tony Petrillo, suggesting that Chris Bakken start a Kickstarter campaign.

After that, Steve Tucker talked some more. Then Eric Toews outlined the options: Schedule A (July start) est. $3.6 million.
Schedule A variant, add $200,000.
Option B (start date after Wooden Boat Fest) est. $4.04 million, which is about $370,000 more than schedule A.
Steel tariffs go into effect on Friday, Toews said; we have about $1 million of steel in this project.

Toews is obviously so smart, it's a pleasure to hear him talk, although he says scary things. The Port could risk losing their $900,000 grant from US Fish and Wildlife.

Then commissioner Steve Tucker talked some more. "I remember being a kid about 5 or 6 years old in Butte, and I wanted a bicycle, to do stuff like go to school, get a paper route," he said. "The concept of not having enough money to get a bicycle was completely foreign to me." He said he knew money came from banks and couldn't understand why his parents didn't just go to the bank and get money to buy him a bicycle.
"We're maxed out," he said. "I've been here before, we were doing bids for the, uh, Boat Haven." (Pretty sure he meant the second boat launch ramp at Boat Haven, a miniscule project in comparison, that was still deeply expensive.) Bids were higher than expected, he said. "We don't have a big bank account."
Tucker said, "my concern with the September start date is the bid'll come back, it'll be too high, and we won't have anything to fall back on. ... My mind, the only reasonable thing to do ..." is put out the bid for a July start date. He said he likes the idea of having the Festival at Boat Haven. "The actual working yard could be arranged for your little bleachers where you have your class," he said. "We have plenty of space."

Port commissioner Pete Hanke said he appreciated everyone's comments. "I think we're in a decision of either the late start date for September or ... possibly delaying it for another year." He observed that "to jeopardize the Wooden Boat Festival is not an option for our community" and said "paying a higher price to lessen impact on the community is justified." He said, "it isn't about always the bottom line." He noted that Jake Beattie had talked about getting an easement for a crane over the NWMC property, which would save a lot of money on construction costs. Hanke, who owns Puget Sound Express, a whale-watching business and foot-ferry to Friday Harbor, also said he would contribute $50,000. "It's important to us," he said. "We're in the same boat that everyone else is in. ... June to September is 80 percent of our total haul."

Commissioner Bill Putney's turn. "I promise no more parables," he said. "The Northwest Maritime Center has made a generous pledge and I hope we can take advantage of that." He encouraged people to patronize businesses offering to donate. "Where I'm leaning is a late start. ... I'm betting on a guess," he said. "Because the Maritime Center cannot wait to tell people that the Festival is on or off, the decision that we make today is the decision that the Maritime Center has to use to cancel or go ahead with the Festival. ... It could cost is a bond ... a grant ... to re-start the permit process," plus a lot more staff time. "These are the concerns for me as a commissioner." He said, "running the marine operations is only half ... the other half is economic development for the community." He said if bids come back at $800 million, we couldn't have a September start date.

I think he was exaggerating, or I misheard.

Tucker acted like we were suggesting he slice off his left foot. He said, "losing a grant would be a horrible thing to overcome. ... I'm very afraid." He mentioned again his experience of the boat ramp project, when engineer's estimates didn't reflect the actual bids that came back from contractors.

Hanke asked Toews about the cost of delaying until 2019. No permits would be jeopardized by a 1-year delay, Toews said, but if US Fish & Wildlife and RCO don't give a grant extension, we'd have to pay back $1.2 million in grants already paid out.

Tucker again reiterated for the "audience" that it's heavy work taking on "the risk of you-all money" being much more stressful than just having to make decisions about his own business.

I think his problem is he doesn't give a shit about boats, so he doesn't feel part of the community. Melinda Bryden is in the same camp. They're in camp, and we're in the boat. We're all down here in the same boat, being a community, getting together to talk about what to do about Point Hudson, the breakwaters, the boat festival, the city's need for tourist money, the Maritime Center squatting there with all its meticulously whipped lengths of soft regatta-laid line for teaching kids how to tie bowlines and square knots, all of us in that room love boats. Forty-seven people there wore some sort of garment that advertised a boat. They all want to save the Boat Festival. I wonder how many of them would support the Maritime Center taking fiscal responsibility for Point Hudson properties that now belong to the Port? 

Tucker and Bryden are probably opposed to the Port leasing to NWMC mainly on totally reasonable, justifiable, but entirely theoretical grounds. The NWMC is sorta like a private company, and leasing them Point Hudson cheap is like the government giving them a great big bargain. And because everyone in the county pays taxes supporting the Port, it's like giving those boat people in PT a great big free gift. It goes against their grain, politically speaking. The people's money is the people's money, not some organization's money.

They're probably opposed to spending the people's money on principle. They probably also really don't care about boats.

But of course ... tourists don't come to the county, they come to PT.
How much money are County people losing on the Port? Maybe we could have an essay contest. People who in no way economically benefit from the Port of PT could write exactly how much money they pay in County taxes every year, and what percentage of that goes to the Port, and then they could explain why it's so grievous to them personally to have that amount of money be spent on something they really don't benefit from. We could read these at another public meeting, and figure out a way to compensate them for it.

History is intangible. It's really hard to count community in the bottom line. Economic development is part of community development, and vice-versa. Wooden boats are part of our nation's history, our human history, and our local networks of economic development. Pull the rug out from under the boat festival, and we'd still have the best darn fishing-boat fixers and sail-sewers in the world, probably, but we're not going to make any money off it as a community.

Port Townsend is the county seat, the population center, and the cultural center of Jefferson County. Yes, the NWMC has done some crappy shit to folks out in the county, mostly not selling Pete Langley's Foundry stuff at the Chandlery, and not plastering ads for and photos of people who work on boats at Haven Boatworks and the Shipwrights Co-op and Andersen Machine Shop and Craftsmen United and Sunrise Coffee and PT Brewing and the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding all over their facilities. 

I've heard shipwrights say they hate the NWMC because they seem to be spreading the idea around to the world that they are the local boat-fixing experts. The complaint seems to be, they talk like they're the only game in town, or something.

Maybe NWMC could do better at giving credit to real people who work on boats, not just themselves. 

But more to the point of the Port wasting everyone's tax money, if that really is the worry of our friends Steve Tucker and Melinda Bryden. Yes, maybe the Port is risking all the money entrusted to them by the people of Jefferson County, and wasting the money on doing this construction project in fall and winter instead of in summer and fall. Maybe we'll waste a million bucks if we wait till September, and in so doing lose the whole shebang, have to mortgage the Boat Haven and start growing hops at the airport. 

Wait, that's a great idea.

Seriously, though. The breakwaters are going to be obscenely expensive, and mostly seem to benefit NWMC, and PT boat people, restaurateurs, hoteliers, and the City of PT's hotel-tax coffers. The City should probably kick in on the breakwater project, too. I agree with Hasse: let's go back to the drawing board, and ditch the steel-wall breakwaters, and instead build rubble-mound ones with local materials, like rocks and logs. Will County taxpayers benefit that much less by spending $3.6 million than $4.04 million? Perhaps the real concern is letting NWMC run Point Hudson. It's possible they'll build a cheesy hotel, kick out the RV park, lose money, be corrupt. It's more possible, though, that they'll actually do a better job at using Point Hudson to malke money than the Port is doing, and they might also do cool stuff like teach kids how to do stuff and teach adults how to do stuff and have fun and mess around in boats and look at pigeon guillemots and why it's important not to throw garbage in nature. And they'll probably be more successful it if they don't have to cancel this year's Boat Festival. 

As for the Port not appearing to benefit the county, maybe we could foist that job off on the Maritime Center, making them institute boat-building programs for kids out in the county. Quilcene, Brinnon, Chimacum and even West End school districts could benefit from satellite versions of NWMC's maritime-studies programs, and maybe county taxpayers who feel grumpy about their money going to the Port would feel better if kids all over the County got taught how to build stuff and fix stuff. Good schools bring good people and good business. Let's capitalize on Seattle's boom, cultivate our local maritime expertise, and rake in the cash from all the Amazon millionaires who need a cute place to go for the weekend and someone to fix their yachts.

And if you're still worried about economic development in the rest of Jefferson County, maybe don't worry so much about the Port spending too much money on boat stuff, and advocate for a sewer system in Port Hadlock; build a Wal-Mart out there and wallow in whatever bottom-line joy it brings.

* The Wooden Boat Festival brings about 30,000 visitors to Point Hudson in early September, a summer-ending squirt of tourist dollars. Ripping out the old jetties in July means no Festival. Before those jetties were built in the 1930s, Point Hudson was a lagoon. Now, the strip of land on the outside of the marina is home to several historic buildings, an RV park, some restaurants, and so on. On the town side of the marina are the NW Maritime Center, Key Coty Public Theater, Port Townsend Sails, Brion Toss Rigging. At the head f the bay is Sea Marine, a small but active boatyard. But most people in town know Point Hudson as "where the Wooden Boat Festival happens."

Here's a link to the meeting agenda, with all the numbers and stuff: