OUR VIEW: The Port’s Quick Punt

An editorial by the Kitsap Sun, January 13, 2013

For five years the Bremerton Marina‘s biggest stumbling block has been obvious: an occupancy rate that hasn’t moved enough to stem continued operating losses of the major piece of the city’s waterfront.

The Port of Bremerton, which built the $34 million facility using a funding mechanism dubbed a “stealth tax” for its lack of wide public notice, has tried to turn things around. There have been renewed marketing campaigns, boat shows and events have been hosted, and most recently the Port’s leadership investigated farming operations out to a private company to fill the 300 slips, about 2/3 of which sit empty.

The first two ideas can be judged on their results — the third didn’t seem to get a whiff of a chance.

Back in October 2012 port commissioners were talking about finding interested private groups to pitch operating plans that may produce more tenants and guests than staff has been able to attract. The formal request for proposals was issued in November, and two plans for the job were submitted by Friday, Dec. 28. By the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 8 — just six working days later and without having turned over the proposals for public inspection, which the law allows for — commissioners squelched both offers.

The rapid decision raises questions of how thoroughly the plans could have been vetted. Port commissioners offered no reasons for their decision during that Jan. 8 meeting, besides passing along the advice of a Kenmore-based consultant that had done all of its analysis in an incredibly squeezed time frame around the holidays. There was also apparently a lack of communication with the bidders, according to one of the parties who pitched a business plan and was never questioned about its specifics.

Port commissioners have every right to reject proposals that don’t pencil out, and private management may not be the best way to run such a large public investment. But to make that decision without a word of explanation to the public? And after just more than a week during a time of year when most are taking leave for the holidays? After four years of struggling to find a successful strategy for the Bremerton Marina, this rejection seems oddly premature and suspiciously quiet.

A few years ago the Port of Bremerton stated a commitment to being more open with the taxpayers, driven almost entirely by the distrust surrounding the marina project. There’s new leadership now, but this decision reminds us of the same old story.

 

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