The fate of Joemma Beach State Park is still uncertain, as the legislature marches forward to pass a biennium budget by April or May for signature by the governor by June. The budget must be adopted 30 days before the fiscal period begins July 1.
Governor Gregoire’s budget proposes $10 million in cuts to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission’s $100 million budget. Along with deferring replacement of obsolete equipment and reducing support for partner-generated activities, 15 state parks are also on the chopping block. For 13 of the 15 parks, including Joemma Beach, the state is looking to local agencies to take over the parks through a land transfer at no cost to the receiving agencies as long as the parks continue to be used for outdoor recreation. If there are no takers, the parks could conceivably be sold to a private party at a public auction to the highest bidder, according to the commission.
While Scott Gallacher, executive director of Key Pen Parks, is optimistic, he is also realistic about the district’s ability to take over.
“We first would like it [Joemma] to remain a state park,” Gallacher said. “Beyond that, the numbers are a challenge. Revenues are at $20 to 25,000 per year, and expenses are around $90,000 for staff wages, maintenance and operations, with no capital improvements.”
A low ratio of about 24 percent earned revenue to management cost may very well be a primary reason Joemma Beach is on the chopping block. Parks with revenues of 60 percent or more of operating costs are considered “consistent” with the Centennial 2013 vision. Parks that fall in the 30-60 percent range are considered “potentially consistent,” and parks that fall below 30 percent are considered “inconsistent.” With an overall rating of “potentially consistent,” Joemma Beach would require further study to determine if a substantial investment would allow it to be reclassified as “consistent.”
Another sticking point for Key Pen Parks centers on the floating docks, which are taken in and out each year by state parks marine crews. A grant for $560,000 from the Washington State Recreation Conservation Office to build the docks stipulated that once completed, public access be allowed for 25 years.
The docks were completed in April, however, engineering reports indicate that the docks were not designed for open water and will not likely last the 24 years for public access.
“This is a marine facility with unique characteristics,” Gallacher said. “Because the docks were not built for open water, the stipulation of the grant creates encumbrances that would need to be thoroughly investigated before taking this on. We, more than anyone, don’t want to see parks close, but we have to be aware of what our constituents want. If they want parks to stay open, taxes and user fees may have to increase. We’re being very cautious with regard to the potential impact this property would have on the district budget and the residents of the Key Peninsula.”
Local legislators are also working to help ensure the 122-acre marine camping park stays open to the public. In a Feb. 3 email sent to Rex Derr, state parks and recreation commissioner, Representative Larry Seaquist wrote, “As you know, there is huge community support for the parks (Kopachuck and Joemma) and a wonderfully forward-thinking willingness to try to find a practical way to keep both parks open. Picking up on your offer, may I invite your staff to join us in a community-hosted work session or two to examine the options ranging from finding alternative savings that would allow the parks to remain under state operation to various ways to transition to local control and operation.” Seaquist also wrote that he “had not had an opportunity to confer with Senator Kilmer on this, but I expect that he will also welcome your help with this community effort to keep these vital parks open and staffed.”
If a solution for the Joemma Beach State Park cannot be found, it will likely close Sept. 15.
Gallacher is encouraging citizens to mobilize and make their voices heard.
“If people don’t stand up, this will happen,” he said.
Citizens may comment to the commission by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by letter to Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, P.O. Box 2650, Olympia, WA, 98504-2650. You can also post comments through the Fox Island Community Recreation Association to state officials via www.foxisland.net.