Mukilteo’s waterfront has a shining future

Mukilteo wants and deserves to reclaim our 4.8 miles of beautiful waterfront.

In February 1969, when the cost of regular gasoline was 35 cents per gallon and Richard Nixon was in the White House, the State Highway Department and State Bridge Toll Authority stated to residents that the existing ferry terminal in Mukilteo was “unsuitable for expansion and the ultimate solution is relocation of the terminal to a point agreeable to the community … a site immediately northeast of the U.S. Government fuel storage area. …”

Fast forward to $4 per gallon gasoline and nearly 100 million Mukilteo ferry travelers later. The Mukilteo/Clinton ferry route is the state’s busiest for vehicles and has the second-highest annual ridership, serving more than 4 million riders in 2011.

We are getting closer to a solution for ferry traffic with the state ferry system’s decision to relocate the terminal one-third of a mile to the east of the existing terminal.

We are also getting closer to regaining our waterfront.

A little history

Mukilteo has long been known for its beautiful, strategically important waterfront; as a tribal gathering and camping place; vibrant port (with four masted ships traversing Puget Sound); ferry crossing and major industrial area (mills and fuel storage area).

In 1941, Mukilteo changed with World War II and the U.S. Army Air Corps’ construction of Paine Field. Change continued with the federal government’s eminent domain installation of a waterfront fuel depot (the tank farm) in the 1950s. This act took nearly one-half of the downtown 22 acres east of Park Avenue for the federal government’s support of the war effort. Our community is proud of its role in the country’s war efforts, but that ended more than 60 years ago and it is time for Mukilteo to reclaim our waterfront.

The sheer size of the tank farm and its industrial use has long been a blight on our waterfront. Today, a government entity would never put fuel storage right along the shores of Puget Sound. Completing the transfer of the tank farm and reclaiming more than 50 percent of our accessible shoreline is the linchpin of waterfront restoration: Mukilteo Landing.

So what is the vision and what is the plan?

The vision for our waterfront is public accessibility, preservation of the historic lighthouse, further improvements to Lighthouse Park with green lawns, kite flying, clean beaches, family events and public art.

The vision includes a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration research and interpretive center with family wage jobs, education and interpretive facilities; and a mile-long shoreline promenade where residents can enjoy the water and wildlife of the Sound.

The vision includes a safe and secure ferry terminal, transit center and Sounder station that affords residents, commuters and visitors easy access to and from Mukilteo without detracting from public access to the waterfront.

In our vision, existing businesses will be enhanced and shops and restaurants will locate on the waterfront. Diving and fishing opportunities will be more accessible. Our waterfront will honor and showcase Native American heritage with art and interpretation; and Japanese Gulch Creek will be daylighted and restored with salmon returning to Mukilteo amidst outdoor student environmental laboratories and public trails.

Finally, Old Town and the waterfront will be connected by an accessible, attractive pedestrian bridge.

Part of the vision has been realized: Improvements at Lighthouse Park the installation of Native American art; construction of the first Sounder platform; the trails and fish passage improvements to Japanese Gulch Creek; and the outdoor education partnership with Edmonds Community College.

This is a time for celebration, but there is more to do. The good news is that there is a plan and we will get it done.

The plan

The city’s vision, plan and policies for the waterfront are included in our comprehensive plan. The plan states that the waterfront should be encouraged to develop as a visitor- or tourist-oriented activity center with restaurants, recreational opportunities and extensive public access.

These are our specific objectives for reclaiming our waterfront:

1. Cultural resource protection and least disturbance: The city will protect and only allow the least disturbance of the cultural resources along the waterfront.

2. Reclaiming public access to the waterfront: Through a series of parks connected by a waterfront pedestrian promenade forming a mile-long loop trail when the tank farm site is connected with the Mukilteo Lighthouse Park and a 2-mile loop with Japanese Gulch is added. Pedestrian connectivity, including Edgewater Beach, is an important objective to providing access to the waterfront.

3. State ferry terminal relocation: Increasing capacity for at-grade ferry holding parking and separated loading of passengers.

4. Building new NOAA Mukilteo Biological Station facilities: Improved water intake facility on a reconstructed pier that can also host a research vessel. We also encourage NOAA to build a modern interpretive, education and research facility that is open to the public.

5. Completing the Sound Transit commuter rail station with pedestrian bridge and extended platform.

6. Building a parking structure through a partnership between Sound Transit and other entities for passenger, commuter and business parking.

7. Enhancing the environment by:

•Removing the old Tank Farm Pier.

•Daylighting Japanese Gulch.

•Enhancing the nearshore at the existing and old Tank Farm pier bases.

8. Complete access to the Port of Everett Mount Baker Transfer Facility for operations, safety and park users.

9. Creating a multimodal/intermodal station: Allowing passengers to transfer easily by separating vehicles and pedestrians through the use of a second-story walkway system and parking garage.

10. Redeveloping waterfront into a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented commercial area which emphasizes water-enjoyment activities on Front and Park streets.

11. Providing 20 percent in open space at the redeveloped area on the tank farm site.

12. Relocating the boat launch to the tank farm site, if feasible.

13. Lighthouse Park Phases 3 &4 Redevelopment: Enlarged grass area and parking structure.

14. Building a pedestrian bridge to connect old town with the Sound Transit pedestrian bridge.

Tank farm transfer

In 2000, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray led passage of an amendment to the defense authorization bill to allow the Air Force to transfer the tank farm property to the Port of Everett for public purposes. We thank Sens. Murray and Maria Cantwell for their tireless support of the transfer.

Twelve years later the process is still not complete, but it is getting closer. This year, the Air Force will release a second draft environmental impact statement and in the last year, the Washington State Ferries actively engaged in an evaluation process for moving the Mukilteo ferry terminal, including possible options located on the tank farm property. We expect additional environmental work and negotiations to continue, with the eventual transfer of the property late this year.

The way ahead

Mukilteo’s waterfront will be reclaimed — that’s my pledge.

The next steps are to complete the environmental process and move forward to secure funding for final design and construction. A final environmental impact statement will be completed by Washington State Ferries and the Federal Transit Administration in spring 2013. Construction of a new terminal is estimated to cost approximately $120 million to $130 million. The Legislature has, so far, identified $90.1 million for the project, including $29 million in federal planning and design grants. Current federal funding will cover the final EIS. The project may apply for additional federal funds once the EIS process is complete.

I am confident that where there is a will there is a way and if we all remain diligent, persistent and dedicated, we will enjoy the full benefits of our spectacular waterfront gifts. The city has already been recognized as one of the top 10 communities to live in the country. Our vision is to ensure that this does not change or diminish in any way. The vision is to demonstrate that progress — directed change and not just growth — is synonymous with retaining our high quality of life.

About the author

Joe Marine was first elected mayor of Mukilteo in 2005, and was re-elected in 2009. He previously served as a City Council member and as a state legislator.

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