Months after receiving approval for a $240,500 grant from the state capital budget, the Longbranch Marina was still waiting for permits to begin state-mandated renovations or risk losing that very same funding.
After intervention by Sen. Maria Caldwell and Rep. Derek Kilmer’s offices, the process now appears ready to move forward.
“We have been waiting on National Marine Fisheries (part of NOAA) to give us their OK on our permitting application for about five months,” said Clark Van Bogart, president of the Longbranch Improvement Club, the marina owner. “We went through nine out of 10 levels of permitting jurisdictions: two county, four state, four Indian tribes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the last hurdle was NOAA. Nine of the 10 were done in March and we’ve been waiting ever since for NOAA to act.”
Van Bogart was thrilled when he got the news about the funding in February 2018, he said. The LIC negotiated its new 15-year aquatic lands lease in 2017, working with the Department of Natural Resources on a 30-year plan to make recommended and affordable environmental and public-safety upgrades.
But the funding would have been at risk if the unexplained delay persisted. “The grant expires if unused by June 30, 2019,” Van Bogart said. “As a practical matter, it expires for us when the fish window closes because it won’t open again until after June 30.”
The so-called fish window extends from July 15 to Feb. 15. “That’s the period of time when you can do work that disturbs the bottom, like replacing pilings,” Van Bogart said.
The grant will cover most of the cost of upgrading the electrical system, replacing 1,000 square feet of the marina’s ﬂoating dock with materials that allow light to pass through to improve eelgrass health for habitat, and removing exposed Styrofoam flotation hazardous to fish. It will also cover the expense of replacing creosote pilings with galvanized steel pilings, rebuilding the now-unusable dinghy dock and building three new finger piers, creating six more slips and more revenue for the marina.
Members of the LIC got involved to figure out why the last permit was being delayed by NOAA.
“The whole marina committee has helped on this thing from the beginning two years ago; there are a lot of people to thank,” said Van Bogart. “Herald Ugles does a lot of legislative work in the lnternational Longshore Warehouse Union and he was the one that put me in touch with the right person in Sen. Cantwell’s office in D.C.
“We contacted Sen. Cantwell and Rep. Kilmer and, lo and behold, within a couple of days we got a notice saying the (NOAA) marine biologist was issuing a report. It’s the last hurdle,” he said.
“The calendar days are flipping by rather quickly now and we need to get some work done before the close of the fish window,” Van Bogart said. “The contractor needed lead time; we’ve given them the go-ahead to start ordering and get the project underway.”
Longbranch Marina history goes back more than a century. In 1885, a wharf was built to accommodate ferries serving south Puget Sound. The Mosquito Fleet transported families and agricultural products to and from Tacoma, Steilacoom and Olympia. A steam ferry called SV Elk served until the late 1930s, when the Tacoma Narrows Bridge rendered the service obsolete.
When Pierce County refused to lease the ferry dock to a private venture, the LIC stepped in. County engineers supplied plans and LIC members provided the lumber, labor and funding to build a floating pier in 1959. About one-third of the floating dock space is dedicated to public guest moorage on a first-come, first-served basis for both day and overnight users. In 2010, a new wharf was built and paid for (and is owned) by the LIC at a cost of nearly $300,000 after the county condemned its own existing wharf but did not have funds to replace it.
UPDATE: The LIC received the final permits from NOAA and the Corps of Engineers Nov. 29 after this story went to press.