Port proposal tightens live-aboard policy

The Port of Seattle dropped a bombshell that had fishermen scratching their heads and worse at the April 20 meeting of the Fishermen's Terminal Advisory Committee (FTAC). The issue is the live-aboard policy at the marina, where some owners live on their boats year round.

That wouldn't be allowed anymore, and there are also time restrictions for crewmembers living on boats before and after they leave port, under a proposed set of rules Fishermen's Terminal general manager Kenny Lyles brought to the meeting.

Lyles also claimed the proposal was based - at least in part - on what FTAC recommended last year around this time, said fisherman activist Pete Knutson. "None of us could believe it," he said. "There was opposition even from people on FTAC who are on the side of the Port."

For one thing, Knutson noted, a live-aboard policy the Port of Seattle proposed last year was unanimously rejected in an FTAC vote. And Lyles' contention that the new policy was based on FTAC recommendations was hard to believe, according to Knutson. "So I went back to the [April 28, 2006] meeting notes," he said.

Those meeting notes included a call for an FTAC group to work later on proposed changes to the live-aboard policy, and those discussions took place, said FTAC chairman David Harsila. "Of course, we never voted on a final draft," he added.

But there was another sticking point. "Several [FTAC members] thought it was a different policy than we had talked about," Harsila said of the latest proposal.

The proposed changes were not well received by FTAC, said fisherman Knutson. "I could just see steam coming off a number of heads," is how he put it. "It appeared to be new policy. It was shocking, absolutely shocking."


The issue of live-aboards surfaced last year following the drownings of several people at Fishermen's Termi-nal, something that prompted FTAC to question the safety of the docks.

Mark Knudsen, deputy managing director of seaport operations at the time, framed the issue another way. Moorage rates at Fishermen's Terminal are 30 to 40 percent lower than other Puget Sound ports, he told the News. "As part of that, we expect people ... not to use [boats] as low-cost apartments."

But Knudsen, who now works for the SSA maritime company, really stepped in it with a comment that highlighted class distinctions at the terminal. The real issue, he told the News, was rebuilding the docks and attracting new tenants that included pleasure-boat owners who aren't allowed to live onboard under existing rules.

Attracting new pleasure-boat tenants was made more difficult because of live-aboards on fishing vessels, according to Knudsen.

"It hard to convince someone to bring a million-and-a-half-dollar boat to tie up next to a vessel with a couple of scraggly guys living on it," he said at the time. "We don't think it's that complicated an issue."

Knudsen was wrong on that last comment.

"They virtually wanted to eliminate live-aboards," Harsila said of Port officials. Before, fishing-boat owners had the privilege of living on their vessels all year whether they were working on them or not, he said.

And the issue hasn't become any less complicated this year. The new policy proposal included quite a few discrepancies compared to what FTAC came up with last year, Harsila said. "It was actually radically different from what we understood before. We worked on one thing and we got something else."

Port spokesman Mick Shultz denied that the new set of live-aboard rules was a proposed policy. Rather, the rules were something the Port wanted to discuss with FTAC, he said. "We're not going to unilaterally make any changes to this policy," Shultz insisted.

There was also a misunderstanding on Port staff's part of changes FTAC recommended, a misunderstanding that included some language that should have been removed from the document, he conceded.

But underlying the latest move to tighten up rules for live-aboards are recommendations about how long crewmembers, captains and owners can live on boats before they leave port and after they come back.

For vessels less than 40 feet long, they could live on the boats for 14 days prior to departure and 10 days following their return to port. For vessels longer than 40 feet, they could live onboard 30 days prior to departure and 20 days following the boats' return to Fishermen's Terminal. And crewmembers, captains and owners could live onboard their boats for no more than 45 days while repairs are made.


That repair policy, if it were in effect now, would put salmon fisherman Sam Waikel in a world of hurt. He owns the Nordic Lass and has been living onboard with his dog Lucy while doing some major repairs on his boat in dry dock at Fisher-men's Terminal.

"I hauled out seven weeks ago, I think," he said last weekend during a break. Waikel also estimated it will take another two or three weeks before he's finished.

That's well beyond what the new rules would allow. "Yeah, that's kind of screwed," he frowned. "I'd have to get an apartment, which I can't afford right now."

Indeed, he's living off credit cards while he does the work, which absolutely needed to be done, he said. The Nordic Lass is the only place he stays when he's in Seattle, said Waikel, who had been living at his parents' home in California before he came north.

Living on the boat included a couple of months while it was tied up at the docks at Fishermen's Terminal before he put his ship in dry dock, he said.

Waikel wonders whether the Port's real motivation is to get rid of fishermen at the terminal and replace them with what he called "yachties."

As for both the new and the old live-aboard rules, the Port doesn't enforce them anyway, Waikel said, mentioning that he saw people living on sailing boats while he was docked at Fishermen's Terminal earlier this year. As noted above, that's not allowed at all.

The Port is in a holding pattern now over its live-aboard policy. Harsila said there were so many questions and such a lack of time that FTAC decided to table the issue until next fall when the fishing fleet returns to the terminal. "Hopefully, nothing will happen between now and then," he added.

"We'll indicate possible revisions, and we'll get FTAC's input," Port spokesman Shultz said of the next meeting over the contentious issue. But he wouldn't even begin to speculate about potential changes in the live-aboard policies.

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

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