Rachel Anne Seymour, November 12, 2014, Kitsap Sun
Boathouse sales have become a much-debated topic at the Port of Poulsbo, where commissioners are attempting to clean up port policies and enforcement.
Port policy says that tenants can’t assign or sell moorage slips to new people when they sell their boats or boathouses, said Commissioner Stephen Swann.
“So if you sell your boathouse you have to take it away, take it out, but we haven’t enforced that,” Swann said.
That might be the written policy, but transferring slips with the private sale of boathouses has been the “de facto port policy” for about 50 years, said Robert Johnston, who has owned a boathouse at the port since 2009.
“The fact is, they have been following a policy, whether written or not written, for 50 years. And now, in my humble opinion, they are trying to change that policy,” Johnston said.
The moorage slips constitute public land being licensed to individuals. Only the port is allowed to license or transfer that space.
There is no law saying people cannot sell their boathouses at the port and profit from it, but “it is bad public policy,” Commissioner Mark DeSalvo said.
Not only does the current boathouse practice and lack of enforcement violate policy, it bypasses people who have paid to be on a waiting list for permanent moorage and boathouse space, the commissioners say.
About 30 people are on the list for permanent moorage; they pay $25 a year to remain on that list.
Swann doesn’t know whether anyone on the waiting list has objected to the current practice but said that failing to enforce the policy invalidates the waiting list.
As Swann sees it, the main issue is money.
Swann and the other port commissioners argue that a boathouse’s location at the port makes it more valuable than a boathouse that needs to be moved or brought into the port. Therefore, individuals selling boathouses are profiting when their moorage slip is included in the deal, which is “bad policy practice” and could be considered the gifting of public funds or property, the commissioners said.
“If you have a boathouse and buy it from me, I get a lot more money from you if I get the slip that goes with it,” Swann said. “But I don’t have the legal authority to transfer that to you as the boathouse owner.”
One idea suggested during a recent commissioner meeting was for the port to levy a slip transfer or reassignment fee for boathouse sales, although that fee still would allow buyers to sidestep the waiting list.
Others, mostly boathouse owners, want the current practice to continue, Swann said.
Swann also suggested creating a specific waiting list for boathouses. The current list groups together all permanent moorage, which includes spaces for only boats as well as boathouses.
The Bremerton, Port Orchard and Kingston marinas haven’t run into this issue, because boathouses aren’t moored there. The Brownsville Marina does have private boathouses and allows moorage slips to be transferred to new owners.
“We do this with boats, too,” said Jerry Rowland, Port of Brownsville manager. “If you sell a boat or boathouse you can leave it here, provided that boat meets all the current rules and regulations of the marina. That’s how we work that.”
Rowland said the port has “never ever had any issues with this.”
During Thursday’s commissioner meeting, the commissioners said they will hold at least one more public hearing or workshop as they search for ideas on how to handle the boathouse policy.