Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz visited Lakebay Marina June 4 in part to celebrate the partnership to save the iconic facility and to see for herself what the Department of Natural Resources now owns.
“This was a long, long haul here,” said Bob Wise, president of the Recreational Boaters Association of Washington. “There were a lot of ups and downs, a lot of very dark days. Number one, I thank Hilary Franz for having the courage to do this.”
Doug Levy, lobbyist for RBAW, said “This is the first boating facilities program application they’ve done on the aquatics side of the (DNR). It’s like going off the top of the mountain without any skis on. ‘Hey, is this going to work?’ ”
“We have two significant responsibilities,” Franz said. “One is to steward those aquatic lands for salmon habitat and the critical ecosystem that thrives in our waterways but also to provide access for the people of Washington state, so they can get out on our waters and enjoy them.”
Franz said Lakebay Marina has a huge history of recreation opportunity and access. “And at the same time, you look around, we’ve got an estuary up here that can help restore our salmon runs and protect aquatic species.”
She gave credit to the community surrounding Lakebay Marina for having been so active in raising environmental issues and safety concerns at the local and state level.
“This is an example of community engagement and activism,” she said. “To be honest, I’m all over the state. I’m not in every corner all the time. Our aquatics team is also limited. We’ve got a lot of ground we have to cover and a lot of challenges.”
The boating association purchased Lakebay Marina from Mark Scott in December 2019 in a deal with many twists and turns that finally closed for $1.6 million Dec. 28, 2021. From the beginning, the goal for RBAW was rehabilitating and preserving it in perpetuity as a marine park by donating it to the state, something the group did successfully in the past in the northern San Juans with Sucia Island State Park.
“Knowing it’s not in private ownership, there’s no one doing this for a profit motive anymore, we need to restore this building,” Wise said.
“It’s expensive to maintain your history, that’s all there is to it,” he said. “But the reality of it is, if money is the only blocker we have, that’s not that hard. It’s not insurmountable.”
Aquatic Resources Assistant Division Manager Michal Rechner was deeply involved in the negotiations for the acquisition of Lakebay Marina and helped convince Franz this was a worthwhile project for the agency.
Rechner indicated some of the next steps. “When the tide gets low you can really see the condition of the pilings are pretty bad,” he said.
DNR will bring a consultant onboard to help with the public process, some of the design work and the design for the shoreline restoration.
“One of the things we’ll also have them do is to get an engineering consult on the pilings, to see how good or bad it really is, so we’ll know what we’re working with,” Rechner said.
As one of the last remaining fuel stops for boaters in South Puget Sound, Franz said she understands that preservation of Lakebay Marina as a fuel dock is important too.
How long it will take to restore fuel service at the site remains unanswered at this point.
“If we don’t have access to fuel then our boaters can’t get out in the water and in the South Sound,” she said. “If you look at the history, one of the things we’re doing aside from protecting the environment and providing access is preserving a part of history, and Washington state has always been a boating community.”
Wise said he thinks public access to the water is going to continue to be something that shrinks.
“We want to make sure that properties like this, which are historic in nature and have been a part of the community for the last 130 years, to make sure we preserve them for the public and multiple generations to come,” he said.
It’s going to take a lot more time and money but now, three years into the project, Wise said he is confident there is enough interest to raise the money that’s needed to rebuild the property.
“This building is actually on the historic registry,” he said. “We think it’s a unique part of the property that dates back to when this was an egg cooperative many decades ago. We’d love to see it saved and we hope we can do that.”
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