Park District continues to weigh dock options

The board has invited additional public comment throughout November and December.

Vashon Park District commissioners are continuing to weigh options in terms of a costly replacement for Tramp Harbor dock, a 340-foot-long iconic island structure that has been closed since 2019, due to deteriorating conditions.

At a board meeting held on Tuesday, Oct. 25, VPD commissioners and executive director Elaine Rocheford-Ott received input from several members of the public in attendance and answered questions about the options for replacement — part of a process that will result in a decision by the commissioners by the end of the year as to which path forward VPD will take.

The board has invited additional public comment throughout November and December, prior to its decision.

VPD has also announced a timeline for the dock’s replacement, with design completion in June 2023, securing funding through grants and fundraising by May of 2024, and a start of construction in July of 2025.

However, this timeline would necessarily be altered if the board decides on the least expensive option now on the table — to demolish the dock and not replace it, at a cost now estimated to be $424,000.

One replacement option being discussed by the board is to replace the existing dock with one that maintains its walkway width but shortens its platform by 15 feet, at a cost of $4 million.

But at the Oct. 25 meeting, several board members shared their interest in supporting a less expensive option now on the table — replacing the dock with a new structure that would reduce the dock’s width from its present 11.5 feet to 4 feet, at a cost of $2.7 million.

This option would also reduce the dock’s length from 340 feet to 310 feet, as required by VPD’s lease of tidelands that belong to the State Department of Natural Resources.

That lease stipulates that the outer portion of the present dock — which now rests over the Point Heyer Geoduck Tract, and is now co-managed by DNR and Tribal authorities — must be removed so that it no longer obstructs these waters in any way for safe harvesting purposes.

At the meeting, islanders shared multiple concerns about a more narrow dock — including its limitations to cast fishing and the possibility that it could make navigation difficult for a number of people to be on the dock at the same time.

In an email to The Beachcomber, Ott-Rocheford said that given this feedback, board members will continue to consider whether the narrower dock is worth the public investment and whether dock removal might be best given the significant cost and fundraising needs against a limited outcome.

“VPD conversations about trade-offs and potential financing will continue,” Ott-Rocheford said, while also noting that currently, removal of the dock is a minority position amongst the commissioners.

At the meeting, Ott-Rocheford also explained to those in attendance that the replacement of the dock would be managed, by VPD’s consultants, KPFF Engineers, who had been hired to oversee the project from start to finish.

‘We’re not King County, so Parks is not subject to [the county’s] in-house project teams,” she said, adding that KPFF is a highly qualified firm which has completed dock projects throughout the Northwest, including Vashon’s north-end ferry dock.

Plan for funding the dock’s replacement

Ott-Rocheford detailed, at the Oct. 25 meeting, that she had heard from several members of the public who voiced strong opposition to a bond measure to finance the replacement of the dock, due to an increase in property valuations.

“Interestingly, several people had a misperception that this project would increase their property taxes, so they effectively said, “just tear it down,” she said, adding that when she had explained that taxes would not be affected given the funding VPD is proposing, these islanders had expressed support for moving forward with the dock replacement project.

According to a fact sheet about the dock replacement project, now posted on vashonparks.org, funding for the various projects could come from a variety of sources, including $800,000 from VPD.

Three grants, from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, are expected to total another $1.5 million for the project. Additional fundraising, in amounts varying from $400,000, for the least expensive option, to $2 million for the most expensive, would also be needed.

At the meeting, commissioner Han Van Dusen also explained the math of the project.

“The VPD levy is close to $2 million,” he said. “You all pay 45 cents per $100 per assessed $1000 of your assessed property value. That $2 million pays for staff, operations, etc. Within that, we think we can set aside $800,000 for this project. That’s a lot, but we think the dock is important enough.”

Van Dusen added that Ott-Rocheford believed that the likelihood of getting state grants was high.

“A bond is an option, but that is not the temperature of the board,” he said. “We don’t think the voters are inclined to approve a bond.”

Islanders offer ideas for new dock

Ott-Rocheford also detailed, on Oct. 25, that some islanders had written to her, suggesting more creative uses for the dock, particularly boat moorage and more immediate access for fishing, scuba diving and kayaking.

However, she explained that moorage is not allowed with the present DNR lease and that negotiating a new lease would require a habitat site study, including updated surveys and sediment quality testing.

If adverse effects were identified, she said, VPD would have to pay rent as well as pay costs to mitigate shellfish damage in the future.

She also ruled out the possibility of any immediate funding from FEMA or other sources to adapt the dock as a site connected to disaster preparedness, saying that she had researched this possibility in the past and found no interest from FEMA, Vashon Island Fire & Rescue or VashonBePrepared for such funding or use.

The board will continue to discuss the issue at upcoming meetings, and listen to the public, Ott-Rocheford and board members said.

“My perspective is to reflect what the community wants,” said commissioner Sarah George. “I ask people what they want and how they use it. Every person has said they don’t want it to disappear. I want to be fiscally responsible but make sure that does not preclude future uses and happiness with the dock. We don’t want to find ourselves in the position of not being able to afford it or complete it.”

George also stated the importance of the iconic dock.

“As far as mission goes, it’s part of our history as the first ferry dock on the island,” she said. “We can’t recreate a dock — once you remove it, that’s it. I want to keep this. How to do it is the question.”

For more information about VPD’s plans for the Tramp Harbor dock, and upcoming public meetings at which the dock replacement will be discussed, visit vashonparks.org.