MUKILTEO — That waterfront is losing more than an important eyesore.
Plans were scrapped when bids came in too high for a new Mukilteo Research Station to replace the weathered two-story hovel where scientists studied climate change effects, ocean acidification and impacts on fish health.
“We sought contractor bids to rebuild the facility on-site. Unfortunately, the bids greatly exceeded the funds available for the project,” Michael Milstein, a spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Wednesday. He would not give any bid figures.
The future of the 1.1-acre federal property on Front Street is uncertain. It could possibly end up in private hands and become condos or a parking lot.
About $40 million had been appropriated by Congress, $4.5 million in 2017 for design and site work, and $35.5 million in 2019 for completion of a new facility that is part of Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
A modern center with public access was targeted to open in 2022 as part of the Mukilteo downtown master plan.
The parcel is next to the Silver Cloud Inn, two doors down from Ivar’s. The new ferry terminal is on the other side.
Prime real estate in the scheme of things.
“Moving forward, we will be engaged to make sure the property fits our waterfront vision, whether that is with the city as owner, or a private owner,” Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said. “Our waterfront is a mix of public and private uses, and this will be no different.”
The dilapidated structure has peeling paint, creaky floors and a foundation bolstered by temporary supports. It was built as a temporary Air Force barrack during World War II to support a fuel depot. NOAA began using the building for research in the 1970s and took over ownership in the 2000s. Other holdings by the Air Force’s 40-acre spread went to the city of Mukilteo, Washington State Department of Transportation, Tulalip Tribes and Port of Everett for waterfront projects.
When operational, the center’s spread included a crusty pier, rusty storage tanks and a bone yard where old experiments and parts go to die. Amid a tangled mess of hoses and cords were research labs with bubbly tubs where sea organisms were grown in saltwater. The center was also used by scientists to study the effects of oil and urban runoff.
Steve Schmalz, a former Mukilteo City Councilman, said the proposal for a new center was “an exciting part of the waterfront.”
“We are losing a gem,” he said. “It’s an important facility not only because of the research and science. It’s an education center for students and parents to learn a lot about Puget Sound. A lot of kids, their eyes get wide open.”
He said residents were surprised and saddened by the loss.
“Why wasn’t the public made aware of this decision in January? We could have lobbied our federal officials,” he said.
The building was slated for demolition in mid-2020. Plans were delayed due to COVID-19. The windows are boarded. Fences and “No Trespassing” signs keep onlookers at bay.
Employees, who have been working remotely, will be relocated to other centers and no jobs will be cut.
“The Mukilteo Research Station leaves an important legacy of marine research in Puget Sound,” Milstein said.