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Fix it, don’t replace it

Residents of Hansville argued persuasively to repair rather than replace the old Point No Point Resort boat launch Tuesday night, in a meeting with representatives from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Kitsap County Parks and Recreation, and Kitsap County Commissioner Chris Endresen.

Close to 100 people – mostly Hansville locals, according to a rough hand count – turned out for the meeting at Hansville Community Center.

“There’s a problem,” said Parks and Recreation Director Cris Gears as the meeting began. “We all know there’s a problem. The question is ‘What are we going to do about it?’.”

By meeting’s end, the answer seemed to be: Nothing, yet. Dept of Fish and Wildlife’s Regional Director Sue Patnude and Regional Lands Manager Pete Dietrichson assured worried residents that they would go back to the drawing board, working with engineers to see if the existing rail-system launch can be repaired.

All in the Same Boat

The “problem” alluded to by Gears is this: Repairs on the 1920s-era launch, closed in January due to safety concerns, are presumed to be prohibitively expensive, but either of the two alternatives proposed for a new launch would disrupt Point No Point’s future as a multiuse area.

The Point is much-loved and well-used by diverse groups who have so far had little trouble sharing the area’s beautiful waters and shore.

Picnickers, sunbathers, beachcombers, birdwatchers, and history buffs come from all over the county – and indeed the world – to enjoy the sandy beach and historic lighthouse recently acquired by Kitsap County Parks and Recreation.

Trailer campers and recreational boaters enjoy the four-acre Point No Point Resort, owned by the Dept of Fish and Wildlife, where boaters could launch their crafts until January, when the boat launch at the hub of the controversy was closed.

Residents, too, treasure their peaceful neighborhood between and around these two parcels.

And people are not the Point’s only users. The area provides important habitat for salmon and other wildlife. With more than 230 species of birds recorded in the area, some threatened or endangered, Point No Point was recently designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

Complications

The old boat launch, which worked on a dolly-and-rail system run by a skilled operator, was closed because its pilings had fallen into extreme disrepair, said Dietrichson.

With the nearest boat launches miles away, at Salsbury Point Park and Eglon, the closure creates a major inconvenience for boaters. There’s no question but that a working launch is needed at Point No Point.

The obvious solution is to build a new launch where the old one is, at the resort owned by Dept of Fish and Wildlife. That simple plan is complicated, though, by the presence of eel grass in the water there.

Eel grass is important habitat for many fish, including salmon, which use the grass for protection and for laying eggs, said Steve Kalinowski, regional habitat program manager for the Dept of Fish and Wildlife.

The grass is sensitive to wake wash from passing boats and to light, refusing to grow where it’s too shady. Transplanting the temperamental plant has met with little success.

That poses a dilemma for Fish and Wildlife, whose twofold mission is to provide people with access to fishing and recreation, and to protect the fish themselves. The department tries to avoid building within 10 feet of eel grass, as part of the multiagency salmon-restoration plan “Puget Sound Shared Strategy.”

Any Port in a Storm?

Avoiding eel grass is tricky at Point No Point, where the grass is abundant.

Fortunately, the Dept of Fish and Wildlife has found one sizable “hole” big enough for a new launch. Unfortunately, though, that hole is not on Fish and Wildlife land but on the County’s stretch of beach.

With the County’s approval, a 165-foot, all-tide ramp could be installed there.

But beach-users objected Tuesday to the intrusion of such a large structure mid-beach. Neighbors, too, expressed concerns about the dearth of parking near the proposed site. Boaters would likely have to park at the resort and walk through their neighborhood to the launch.

Without County approval to build on the beach – and approval seemed unlikely Tuesday – Fish and Wildlife would have to build the new ramp at the resort.

The ramp would be built to end before the eel grass, making its incline steeper than is ideal, especially for larger boats, and its use dependent on high tides.

Either new launch would be a “self-service” cement-based ramp design. Some residents worried that cement-ramp launches may not be suitable for Point No Point, known for strong winds and severe weather. The rail system used by the old launch helped stabilize boats as they entered or exited the water.

Shifting sands, too, might shorten the longevity of a cement ramp.

Other concerns – such as the possibility that commercial fishers might use a new launch if it could accommodate 20-foot and larger boats – remain unresolved.

Can Do

Faced with two equally unsatisfactory solutions, several residents were quick to wonder aloud whether a problem existed in the first place. Why not simply repair the existing launch, they asked, which has served area boaters for nearly 80 years?

Dietrichson said that the upgrades of a rail-system launch needed to meet current safety standards would be too expensive, according to engineers.

Because Dept of Fish and Wildlife operates under a legislative mandate, it cannot independently raise user fees, such as those for fishing licenses. Its budget, like the rest of the state’s, is slim, Patnude said.

Furthermore, said Dietrichson, Dept of Fish and Wildlife has no staff to manage an operator-assisted launch like the existing one. Currently, all 126 Fish and Wildlife sites in Region Six, which includes Kitsap County, are managed by one person, he said.

But residents at the meeting wondered whether the cost of upgrading the current launch had been investigated thoroughly. One person cited a launch run by the City of Tacoma that uses an elevator system yet is still self-operated.

Some residents also suggested that management of a repaired launch could be provided by the Hansville community, an idea that appealed to Commissioner Endresen. “If any community can do it, the Hansville community can do it,” she said.

Further discussion with engineers about repair is needed before decisions can be made, Patnude and Dietrichson agreed. Parks and Recreation Director Cris Gears said the County shares Fish and Wildlife’s commitment to finding a solution that works for all parties who love and use Point No Point.

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