Land transfer no boon for waterfront

I was disheartened to see the announcement for the transfer of title for the former government fuel tank farm land on Mukilteo’s waterfront to the Port of Everett. (Tuesday article, “Land transfer to transform Mukilteo tank farm’s future”). Even more disheartening is the plan to use a majority of this 19 acres of prime waterfront land for public transportation facilities to include a proposed new ferry dock and parking facilities for Sounder commuter rail service. The Port of Everett intends to transfer the title over to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The process of allowing Mukilteo’s waterfront to be turned into a transportation facility has been flawed from when the federal government (U.S. Air Force) announced they would abandon the site and surplus the land about 20 years ago. At that time the city could have sought out other potential partners to gain title to the land and try to promote maximum economic benefit for Mukilteo, but elected officials cast aside those other potential opportunities and chose only to deal with the Port of Everett. As it stands now, Mukilteo will gain some public access to the waterfront for a “pedestrian promenade” but that’s about all.

The Port of Everett’s mission statement, as described on the home page of their website states: “The Port of Everett seeks to broaden and strengthen the economic base of the Port District.” Approximately two-thirds of Mukilteo residents live within the Everett Port District and have paid taxes to the port for decades. Yet, what has Mukilteo ever received of any significance for its contributions?

It is interesting to see how Everett is engaged to re-develop the former Kimberly Clark (Scott Paper) industrial plant into a mixed use type of development on the Everett waterfront that will create jobs and boost the local economy. Everett just announced the sale of the site to development company “Saltchuk Enterprises.” As Everett’s Mayor Ray Stephenson stated; “we wanted job re-creation when Kimberly Clark closed … this fits perfectly.”

Similar mixed-use development is proposed for the riverfront project on the east side of Everett along the Snohomish River east of I-5. Mukilteo’s waterfront redevelopment will probably result in employing a couple dozen state transportation workers, at least until computerized, automatic attendants are put in place to sell tickets and direct traffic.

The estimated cost to build the new ferry dock is reported to be $130 million. Based on how these government construction projects go, you can pretty much assume that number will likely be closer to $200 million. Currently, there are not funds available to build these facilities and there probably won’t be for years to come based on the demand and competition for state transportation funding of projects. Remember the last legislative session … three special sessions and no substantive transportation funding. It was also just announced the Sounder service between Everett and Seattle is suffering from ridership and the number of cars/seats has been reduced.

It is a travesty that our local elected representatives did not insist the federal government do a complete cleanup of the former tank farm site to include removal of the large dilapidated pier and the unsightly concrete bunkers that they built. Perhaps we should rename the area the “Detroit District.” I was astonished by Mayor Joe Marine’s statement in the Mukilteo Beacon: “I’m very proud and happy to be here while it happened … just imagine how cool it will be to walk on a promenade from the lighthouse to the Boeing pier.” Unfortunately, he forgot to add: “Past 100 to 200 idling trucks and cars waiting to board the next ferry.”

The only thing elected officials involved in this fiasco deserve is citizens’ ire for displaying such a lack of vision and leadership. Mukilteo is the only city of its size I am aware of that is paying for two full-time management executives: a mayor and a city supervisor/manager. One would think someone could have done better than promoting Mukilteo’s waterfront as the “doormat” for Whidbey Island commuters with no economic benefit for Mukilteo.

Perhaps Mukilteo can redeem itself by following Everett’s lead and insisting the Port of Everett do a search for a private developer and sell or lease the property. Mukilteo would still retain the right to control zoning of the land. What would there be to lose for trying since funding for the ferry will not likely come any time soon? The city’s website home page announces it is “soliciting proposals for grants in 2014 that support and encourage economic development.” The city can consider this my proposal.

Emory Cole served as the mayor of Mukilteo from 1986 to 1989.

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