Listening to community, while moving forward on dock

We are grateful for the community support that helped us through these initial phases and will continue to maintain a strong community connection as we continue to move through future steps.

Last week, the Vashon Park District Board voted to proceed with developing an engineering design for the potential replacement of the Tramp Harbor Dock, focusing on a slightly reduced footprint while preserving essential public access and improving the marine environment.

At this point, we wanted to provide an update on steps that preceded this project milestone, along with the community input and other factors driving this decision, as well as the road ahead.

As documented in these pages before, the Tramp Harbor Dock has a long and storied past over the past century with many prior functions and owners. The Vashon Park District is the current owner and steward of the dock, and so is responsible for future modifications to the site, on behalf of the community.

Beginning in 2019, the district needed to close the dock due to declining integrity in the timber pilings and safety concerns confirmed by the Park District’s insurance company.

Since then, the district has been plugging away to pursue future opportunities and address the engineering, property, regulatory and financial challenges involved in any future use of the site. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the district successfully negotiated a new tidelands lease with the state, addressed future shellfish harvest concerns with the state and tribes, and identified significant state grant opportunities that could support future efforts.

In 2022, the district engaged a local engineering firm to draft conceptual designs and cost estimates to give the district a clearer sense of structural, financial, and environmental considerations in repairing, replacing, or removing the dock.

With these initial concepts in hand, the Park Board engaged the community over November and December to solicit input, concerns, and recommendations for proceeding with any plans or investment in this community asset.

We want to thank all of you who took the time to write or speak to us over the last two months, or before, with thoughts on this important project. We received direct input from over 40 community members, with informed, thoughtful, and creative input and recommendations.

Approximately 85% of the input was in favor of community investment to maintain a public dock at this site, through repair or replacement, and the remainder favored removal. This round of islander input aligned closely with the feedback the Park District received from 750 respondents in a 2015 survey on the use and future of the dock.

Specific recent feedback from those in support of maintaining the public dock included the importance of continuing public recreation access for fishing, birding, and sightseeing, equitable access to marine interaction and education, the historic significance of the site, as well as the need for sustainable long-term solutions that improve the marine environment.

Specific concerns from those recommending removing the dock included financial concerns, competing park priorities, concerns for the marine environment, risks to future road access, and other input.

We appreciate the input and guidance from all and plan to keep you informed and involved as we move forward.

In addition to the great community input, the Park Board reviewed a few conceptual design options, regulatory and lease limitations, and potential state grant funding opportunities, to consider a preferred path for moving forward. The Park Board decided to move into detailed engineering and financial estimates for dock replacement, with a reduced footprint, to maintain public access and enhance the marine environment.

The final shape of a new dock will not be known until more engineering work is completed but it is likely the replacement design will involve a 40% narrower pier, which is 10% shorter in length, and with an end platform that is approximately half its current size.

The Park Board believes this more modest footprint will retain the desired public benefit, and improve marine habitat and fishery access, while not overburdening local funding, with substantial state or county grant awards to supplement limited district resources and significant community fundraising.

Likewise, affordable design opportunities to enhance public marine education will be known through more detailed engineering.

As we continue to move forward, we anticipate more twists and turns in the project. The Park District will learn more this year as we move through detailed design decisions, refined cost estimates, and into community fundraising. If those elements are successful, then the Park District will focus on state grant funding applications in early 2024 with potential awards in late 2024.

And then, if grant and community funding is successful, then potential permits, demolition, and replacement construction could proceed in 2025.

We are grateful for the community support that helped us through these initial phases and will continue to maintain a strong community connection as we continue to move through future steps.

Josh Henderson and Hans Van Dusen, respectively, are the chair and secretary of Vashon Park District’s board of commissioners.