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Port Loses New Boat Builder Tenant

By On

Australian boat builder, Alluminum Boats America (ABA), has decided not to lease from the Port of Bellingham and instead locate in Anacortes. At the port meeting on April 3, the commission approved a long term lease with ABA to manufacture boats at the old Uniflite plant on the Fairhaven waterfront.

ABA made a considerable presentation about their company to the commissioners, and port officials expressed how pleased they were that ABA had chosen Bellingham for their United States manufacturing. However, the lease had a 30 day termination clause and ABA has now told the port it is terminating. The reason, according to a reliable source close to the port, is there is no way to launch new boats from the facility. The old Uniflite Tami Lift dock has silted over and the port has chosen to not dredge it.

The parent company in Australia builds large boats, such as ferries and tour boats, ranging in size from 40 feet to well over 100 feet, carrying from 40 to 400 people. They mostly build catamarans, and their new U.S. base will help their expansion into American markets. They plan to hire up to 25 workers during their first year of operation in the U.S. These jobs will now go to Anacortes.

For launching their new boats, the port had suggested ABA use the launch at Fairhaven Shipyards, further down Harris Avenue. ABA decided that was too difficult, expensive, and impractical.

Following are some opinions with further facts.

The April 3 port meeting saw a packed meeting room as many people came to protest the firing of Charlie Sheldon, the port's executive director. Sheldon had been focused on bringing jobs to Bellingham and had overseen the recruitment of ABA. Those of us attending the port meeting that afternoon witnessed the hoopla as the commissioners signed the lease; there was no hint it was all tentative with the possibility of failure. That has now occured. The launching challenge may have been solved had Sheldon stayed on the job. We will never know.

The present launch dock has been silting up from Padden Creek for decades. It has not been dredged for environmental reasons. However, for over 20 years, the port has had the option to move the dock further from Padden Creek and many, including this writer, have urged the commissioners to do just that. We do know commissioner Scott Walker would like to see an end of boat manufacturing at that site in order to build either a Granville-Island-style shopping mall or a convention center. As such, by not making the property suitable for boat building, the land will remain under-utilized and prime for other development.

For myself, this is further reason to expand the port commission from 3 to 5 members. We need a better decision making group. We need to break this troika and allow a more public process. Commissions of three are historically dominated by one member. They are good for getting a specific mission accomplished, but not for long-term community decision making. By expanding to 5, we bring open and real discussion to port decisions and better representation of the voters to decisions that will greatly impact the future of Bellingham and Whatcom County. Scott Walker's bullying domination of the commission needs to end.

Oh, one more zinger. The Port of Anacortes has 5 commissioners.

About John Servais

Posting Citizen Journalist • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Clayton Petree

May 01, 2012

Losing ABA to Anacortes isn’t surprising.  I think this quote from Mr. Sheldon’s Herald opinion piece says it well, “rebuild trust with businesses and the marine trades community”.  Charlie is correct, right now, there is no way for business to trust the Bellingham area - port or city of.  I still have hope that Mayor Linville can begin to steer “ship Bellingham” in a new direction, but it will be very difficult.  It was sad to see what happened at the Port and I hold little to no hope for anything positive to come out of their property (except by accident)until things change dramatically.

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Michael McAuley

May 01, 2012

I’ve been engaged in conversations about FMIP for some time now regarding the lack of legitimate water access.  My plan calls for a large travel lift facility at the northern edge of FMIP extending out to deeper water to avoid sensitive near-shore habitat.  The old facilities would be removed and habitat enhancements made at the mouth of the creek.

Without ‘real’ access for builders, then the Fairhaven Marine Industrial Park isn’t any more valuable than warehouse storage.

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George Dyson

May 01, 2012

Reminds me of that 250,000 square foot warehouse we built directly on the waterfront (under an exemption for water-dependent uses) but with no access to the water!

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Tip Johnson

May 02, 2012

I know!  How about a Federal Waterway to provide waterfront access for water dependent uses?

Oops…

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Todd Granger

May 02, 2012

If any person, actually paid any attention, to any politician…row, row, row you boat gently down the stream…

http://larsen.house.gov/news/press-releases/2007/11/PR-110707-Bellingham-waterfront.shtml

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Todd Granger

May 02, 2012

NOAA…goes to Newport…Who’s Your Executive?

“This could be a game-changer, Chmelik believes. “With the new information we have found, ” Chmelik told the commissioners, “I believe that if this issue prevails the Port will have the opportunity to actually get NOAA.”

“...life is but a dream.”

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Michael McAuley

May 02, 2012

Just posted my latest comments on this at MikeatthePort on blogspot.

http://mikeattheport.blogspot.com/2012_05_01_archive.html

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Michael McAuley

May 02, 2012

Tip and George, the waterway still has all the same access it always had.  If I can get my hand launch area built then it will have even more.  Why do we need Corps oversight to manage our waterway?

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Tip Johnson

May 03, 2012

Mike, it is all of one pattern.  G-P dumps crap all over the bay and the shoreline.  The Port gives them $10 bucks to take a walk and saddles the public with the problem.

Part of the problem is in the waterway which the Corps has the responsibility to maintain.  We know shipping needs a deeper channel, but that would require digging into G-P’s crap and the Corps might tag them as a potentially liable party.

That’s no good, because didn’t we already give them a get-out-of-jail-free card? So the Port steps in and manages to get Congress to make it all a local matter - even over the President’s veto.

This keeps the Whatcom County public in the way of any and all expenses.  Also, since we will never have money for dredging, it means the waterway will continue to deteriorate until it is useless for shipping.

Of course, then the Port can close the Shipping Terminal books and sell it off for condos! Who needs a Port any more, anyway?

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Hue Beattie

May 04, 2012

A poorly run meeting. The Austrailians did a great presentation. the crowd was impressed. Then Scott Walker should have called a recease to allow them to depart. Instead they got to hear the public express their anger at the commission for dumping Charlie Sheldon. If I was them I would have went to Anacortes after hearing about Walker’s weekend scheeming.

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Michael McAuley

May 08, 2012

Shipping terminal is still in federal status.

The only portion shifted to local control is the upstream area that is not slated to ever have deep draft vessels thus no need to leave control in federal hands.

Waterway cleanup planning is taking into account the needs of barges and access for marine trades uses upstream but that doesn’t require deep draft.

 

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