Community voices heard on Fort Worden pier and boat launch project

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One thing was made clear at the public comment meeting regarding the future of the Fort Worden pier and boat launch – something will have to be done about the slowly deteriorating structure.

But it is the adjacent boat launch that is prompting the most debate. Boaters have asked the state to expand, improve and move the existing boat ramp and others are pushing for a more eco-friendly design.

At a June 10, hearing, the public filled a conference room at the Fort Worden Commons with many standing in the back.

There, they heard five alternatives for the pier and boat launch presented by Anna Spooner, senior landscape architect at Anchor QEA, the Seattle-based environmental consulting firm planning the pier project in coordination with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. Representatives from the Fort Worden Public Development Authority and Washington State Parks were also present. The designs presented were for a pre-design report to be presented to the Washington State Parks.

The preliminary preferred alternative was drafted in response to critiques made at an April 18 public briefing. This alternative puts a smaller pedestrian pier in the footprint of the current pier, and an elevated boat launch just north of it (towards the lighthouse). The elevated boat launch would allow people to still walk along the beach and would allow sediment transport to occur in the water. Six stalls would be installed for trailers. Spooner said the pier would also serve to obscure the boat launch from the hill to the south, as many people have expressed their concern that the boat launch would be an eyesore.

The preliminary preferred alternative was met with the most positive response in general, although some in attendance were in support of removing everything altogether or keeping the pier as is, whichever would support the surrounding ecosystem the most.

Janine Boire, executive director of the Marine Science Center, expressed her support for the PPA, saying that she believed it accomplished her and the science center’s primary goal of putting the marine environment first.

However, many people expressed their skepticism of building a larger boat launch at all. Aesthetic reasons outnumbered the rest, with commenters displeased with the idea of loud trucks and trailers filling up the picturesque beach area and backing up vehicle traffic while creating difficulty for pedestrians and bikers.

Todd Hentton of Port Townsend, who walks by the pier five times a week, stressed the “natural beauty” of the area and said the expanded parking plan lot resembled a Walmart parking lot, and would make the popular walking path much less appealing to locals and tourists alike. “We simply don’t need that much asphalt,” he said to a round of applause from the room.

The boat launch did have its supporters. Jeff Minish of Port Hadlock explained the challenges for local fishermen and boat enthusiasts to launch after boat launches in downtown PT, Oak Bay and North Beach shut down. Launching from the Port Townsend Boat Haven is dangerous with the boat traffic, fog, and shallow waters of Point Hudson. A boat launch at Fort Worden would be the go-to boat launch, he said. “It’s closer to where fishermen want to be.”

Ron Hayes of Port Townsend expressed the importance of Fort Worden for people and families in the Puget Sound area, who come in large numbers in the summer to fish and get out on the water. “It’s not just a park for people from Port Townsend,” he said. “It’s a park for people who live in Washington State.”

The PPA will be reviewed and tweaked by Anchor QEA and the parks department, undergoing what Spooner called an “intense review cycle.” An updated draft should be done by summer’s end, she said.

Spooner had started off by addressing the crumbling pier and the environmental impact it has, namely its restriction of sediment transport (the near-shore motion of sands and silts necessary for beaches and spits that support sea life.). Blockage of the sediment transport causes eelgrass and other habitat losses.

Anchor QEA aims to meet ten design criteria for the project, ranging from improving habitats for marine life and minimizing archaeological impact to maintaining the integrity of the historic district surrounding the pier. Each alternative was measured against the ten criteria and rated from high to low based on how well they meet each criterion.

Spooner then dove into the alternatives. Alternative 1 is rehabilitating the pier and expanding the current aquarium on the pier. This alternative is by far the most expensive at $17 million, and would require intensive construction.

Alternative 2 is to relocate the pier to a historic footprint of an older pier up the beach towards the lighthouse, moving the aquarium to a two story building on land adjacent to the current Natural History Exhibit. The boat launch would stay in the same place. This would cost about $11 million.

Alternative 3 is to move the pier and boat dock from the water and not replace them, building the same aquarium on land as in alternative 2. This would cost about $2.8 million.

Alternative 4 is no action, meaning everything remains as is. Spooner warned that the pier will eventually need to be replaced, the boat launch may lose its permit, and that this alternative would eventually become the same as alternative three.

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