A death at Fishermen's Terminal prompts safety concerns

Kip Gilmartin, a 42-year-old fisherman, had been missing for three weeks when his body was recovered from the waters of Fishermen's Terminal on Dec. 22, and fellow fisherman John McDonald thinks unsafe conditions at the marina were responsible for his death.

"When I saw the body bag coming down the dock, the policeman said he slipped off the dock and hit his head," said McDonald, who wasn't surprised.

"These docks are water-soaked," he said. "When it freezes, it turns into a skating rink." McDonald said that he's heard of other people slipping off the slick docks, and he added that he knows an insurance agent who won't walk on the docks when they're wet.

"My dog has gone into the water," McDonald said of his German shepherd. Rescuing his dog also brought up another issue at the marina, where the docks are 4 feet above the water. "How do you get people out?" McDonald asked.

There are ladders on the docks, he conceded, but they are far and few between, and someone falling into the cold water risks succumbing to hypothermia, McDonald said. "It doesn't take very long."

McDonald also worries about the safety of the general public on the docks, and he fired off a letter expressing his concerns to the Port Commission the same day Gilmartin's body was found. "I didn't get a return letter back," he said.

So he followed that up in January with a petition signed by around 25 people expressing the same kinds of concerns, McDonald said.

"We understand the dangers at sea; we can't control those things," he said. But there are things that can be controlled in harbor to improve safety, McDonald added. "It just doesn't seem like anything is being done."

Port spokesman David Schaefer disagrees. "We think it's a safe facility," he said. The terminal is staffed 24 hours a day every day, Port staff members walk the docks at least twice a day, and life rings are placed in strategic locations, Schaefer added.

He conceded that accidents are possible, though. "Wooden docks get wet and slippery, so you need to be careful." But the Port plans to rebuild docks 5 through 10 in the next couple of years, and they will be made of concrete, which will provide safer footing, Schaefer said.

McDonald acknowledged that the Port plans to improve Fishermen's Terminal. But grousing that the Port is spending millions of dollars fixing up the Shilshole Bay marina for recreational boaters, he questioned the Port's sense of priorities.

"We're on the back burner...," McDonald said of improvements at Fishermen's Terminal. A sign of that, he said, are lights that have been burned out on Dock 9 for several months.

McDonald suggested putting in 4-by-4s at the dock edges or installing the same kinds of non-skid sheets boats use. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out."

Schaefer said last Friday that the Port hasn't seen the petition yet or McDonald's initial letter because they were both found up at the Port Commission office on Jan. 9.

But he insisted the Port is not ignoring the concerns at Fishermen's Terminal. "We will look at whatever suggestions they have."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at rzabel@nwlink.com or 461-1309.

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