Port of Bellingham commissioners delayed voting on updating the port’s moorage model that would increase slip rates in Blaine and Squalicum harbors. The commission held a presentation on the proposed increases during its May 3 meeting after pushing back the vote because of public transparency concerns. Port commissioners are expected to vote on the moorage rates during the next port meeting Tuesday, May 17.
Commissioners were originally set to vote on Resolution 1403, which would have increased moorage rates during the April 19 meeting, but it was delayed because of questions raised on changing rates quickly with little public input. The port last updated the moorage rate model in 2014, which was supposed to go under review every four years but was delayed in 2018 until the port had better cost estimates of Squalicum’s inner harbor renovation project, according to a port memo. Port staff gave a presentation on the moorage model during the April 19 meeting, and then again during the May 3 meeting. There was little public input during both meetings.
Under the proposed model, moorage rates would increase 3 to 6 percent annually, based on size and demand. Blaine Harbor recreational rates are based on the size of the boat or the slip, whichever is greater.
As a way to encourage Blaine Harbor occupancy, Blaine rates would remain 4 percent lower than the Squalicum recreation rate until Blaine occupancy remained at 100 percent for a year. The rate for active commercial fishing boats would not increase and the difference between that and the model rate would support economic development, according to the port. The active commercial fishing rate would be connected to Squalicum’s recreation rate for vessels less than 26 feet long. Commercial boats are given a 10 percent discount.
Rates would go into effect July 1 this year, and then April 1 every year after.
Rates would increase 3 to 6 percent annually, depending on boat size. The next moorage model review is set for 2026.
“The end result is more or less to stay in the middle of the [Washington] marina market,” said marinas director Tiffany DeSimone during the April meeting. “We’re not the top, we’re not the bottom.”
The new moorage model would continually increase the port’s cash flow from nearly $895,000 in 2023 – the first full year the new program would be implemented – to just over $6 million in 2026.
The new moorage model would cover operating and capital improvements without future bond financing. The moorage model is a program that includes items such as the port’s revenue and expenses that allows the port to plan for large projects and operational needs, DeSimone said.
In addition to large capital projects, DeSimone said upcoming improvements include dock and facility maintenance, increased security and more port staff during peak seasons. Blaine and Squalicum’s office hours will also expand.
“We’re at capacity at both harbors, and continue daily to field requests at the very least for seasonal moorage,” DeSimone said. “We know our supply isn’t increasing, but demand is.”
The marina advisory committee, a port advisory committee, unanimously approved port staff’s proposed moorage updates.
Jim Kyle, Working Waterfront Coalition of Whatcom County president and Marine Advisory Committee moorage model subcommittee member, voiced his opposition against Resolution 1403 during public comment April 19.
“In the interest of transparency, we request you postpone today’s vote,” Kyle said. “A postponement would give you time to publicize the proposal, explain it and give the public a meaningful chance to weigh in. After a delay of four years, what is the hurry now? Please show your constituents some respect and delay voting on Resolution 1403 until at least the next commission meeting.”
Marina Advisory Committee chairperson Paul Burrill also asked for a delayed vote April 19.
Later in the April meeting, commissioners said they didn’t want their actions to seem questionable and agreed to have the moorage update presentation but hold the vote that was scheduled after.
“I think it’s quite telling that we haven’t had any comments from the public,” commissioner Michael Shepard said. “There’s been nobody from the public who’s shown up to provide any commentary on something that is financially going to impact people in both of our harbors. There are several thousand slips here and nobody really came to discuss. That doesn’t mean everyone is fine with the proposal, it may mean we haven’t had enough bandwidth for people to be prepared to give us comments.”
Kyle thanked the port for delaying the vote during the public comment section of the May 3 meeting. He said the delay allowed the Working Waterfront Coalition board to meet and discuss the proposal, which it approved unanimously – although he said the decision wasn’t easy.
“We agreed in principle the objectives are good, we want to maintain good facilities in the Port of Bellingham and we agreed they should be high quality,” he said. “We agree they should remain competitive with other Puget Sound rates.”
The next Port of Bellingham meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 17. The meetings are being conducted both in-person at 1801 Roeder Avenue in Bellingham and remotely via Zoom and YouTube. More information will be available at portofbellingham.com/agendacenter.
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