The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has agreed to reconsider the terms of its draft lease with the Vashon Park District for the state-owned tidelands under the Tramp Harbor dock, a Vashon Park District property.
A lease between the district and DNR is required in order for the far half of the historic 340-foot dock — including the platform at the end of the walkway — to remain standing over state tidelands. Without an agreement, it will have to be taken down.
In January, the state agency soundly rejected every modification that the park district’s attorney had proposed for the lease, which has not been renewed since 2013. Those changes concerned the district’s liability for the dock’s worsening condition as well as existing contamination from the dock’s pilings, which contain creosote.
Past evaluations have found that more than a dozen pilings are approaching failure. In the case of high wind or heavy loading on one side of the dock, or if a boat should hit it, the state is certain the dock could collapse. But under the conditions of the latest draft of the lease, the park district would have to agree to fully protect DNR from nearly every kind of liability, with very limited exceptions.
Negotiations between the district and the state over the future of the dock have occurred intermittently since the prior lease expired. The most recent talks between the DNR and district had come to a draw until park district executive director Elaine Ott- Rocheford met with DNR officials earlier this month in Olympia. She said she was encouraged by the new tone that their negotiations have taken.
“To be honest, I have felt from the beginning that it’s been, ‘You do this,’ and it’s like, ‘What can I do? I’m trying. But I can’t.’ So I was very heartened by their invitation to step up and partner and get this done,” she told commissioners at the district’s meeting last week.
She added that DNR offered to perform and pay for sediment sampling to measure the creosote contamination and file a report to the Department of Ecology. That test will be performed next month.
The state would like the park district to move forward with an engineering analysis of the dock in order to assess its present condition, said Ott-Rocheford, who added that DNR might shut down public access to the dock until the district completes it. But she said the district could not commit to performing the assessment until after its levy election in November, which hangs over all future decisions regarding what steps will be taken next, including whether or not the district chooses to agree to a new lease.
In a recent phone conversation, Ott- Rocheford said that if the levy passes, the state is insistent that the district make a decision on the lease and the future of the dock. But she stressed that the district’s attorney and insurance broker must also agree that the district can proceed with renewing the lease.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to make a replacement happen,” Ott- Rocheford said. “I haven’t stopped trying, and I’m not going to stop trying until a decision is made. It needs to happen.”
In an email, DNR spokesperson Joe Smillie could not comment on whether the dock would be closed to the public should the park district choose not to go forward with performing that study. He said the agency would stand behind islanders in support of whatever decisions the community makes that affect the dock.
“The primary beneficiaries of the Tramp Harbor dock are the residents of Vashon Island, and they should decide its fate,” he wrote.
Ott-Rocheford has said on several occasions that she would approach Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-West Seattle) for help obtaining a state appropriation to support work on the dock. In a phone conversation, Nguyen said that the likelihood of that happening in the next year is slim — the state capital budget for 2019-2021 was passed and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in May. He added that funding could still be allocated for the dock, but stressed that it would have to weigh against other projects requiring funding in the 34th District.
“It would have to be a priority for folks on Vashon … over other things that might come up,” said Nguyen. “Vashon does a great job of advocating for things, but what we need to focus on is the prioritization of things folks care about.”
However, Nguyen also suggested that $3 million previously secured by former Sen. Sharon Nelson in the 2018 capital budget — intended for Neighborcare Health to renovate the existing clinic at Sunrise Ridge or build a new one — could be reappropriated for other purposes, such as intervening at the Tramp Harbor dock.
“Obviously, you may want to save that for building a health care facility, but it’s there,” he said.
The park district’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, at Ober Park.