The Vashon Park District has formed a citizen committee intended to keep islanders up to date about the Tramp Harbor dock following a public forum last month about the closure of the popular pier.
Those interested in learning more information about the district’s next steps or who would like to be involved in saving the dock are invited to join an email list serve by contacting commissioner Abby Antonelis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For her part, Antonelis said she was encouraged by the passion and stories of those who have spoken up and want to help. She said that the largest problem for the district relating to the dock at this time is the onerous lease with The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for the tidelands under the far half of the structure.
Presently, the district is not in a position to fundraise for renovation or removal of the dock without first resolving the terms of the lease. Under the terms of the last draft agreement with the state, the district would have to agree to fully protect DNR from nearly every kind of liability, with very limited exceptions.
The district has hired an environmental attorney to assist with the process of working through the lease so a decision may finally be made to sign it or not. An agreement is mandated between the district and DNR. Without one, the far half of the historic 340-foot dock — including the platform at the end of the walkway — will have to be taken down.
“The dock belongs to our community,” said Antonelis. “The more information everyone has, the better.”
At their final board meeting of the year last week, Elaine Ott-Rocheford, executive director of the Park District, shared some early ideas that she and the district’s environmental attorney have spoken about.
The attorney advised the district not to sign the lease at this time, adding that the district should not accept liability from environmental contamination stemming from before 2013, when the last lease with the state expired. The attorney will be discussing these items with DNR in the coming weeks.
“One of her messages is going to be, ‘it should not be DNR’s mission to just check a box and obtain rubber-stamped leases. Their mission should be to problem-solve,’” said Ott-Rocheford, adding that the attorney recommended “course correcting” with DNR as soon as possible.
Moreover, Ott-Rocheford said the district can expect to be partly liable for a clean-up of the tidelands led by the Department of Ecology (DOE) — whether or not commissioners have signed a lease with DNR. She said she was told that DOE would likely look to King County and Standard Oil for assistance remediating the area as well if or when the time comes.
The attorney also told Ott-Rocheford that there is little to no recourse left for insuring the dock in its present condition due to the preexisting environmental liability it poses. Ott-Rocheford said it may be possible to obtain pollution liability insurance for the property in the future, though likely after a DOE-led cleanup of the area, and at great cost.
“We’ll keep pursuing the threads,” she told commissioners.