Journal of the San Juan Islands


Business owners press port for action—Round 2

September 1, 2013 · Updated 8:31 PM

With a bang of the gavel, Chairman Greg Hertel opens a special meeting of the port commission, Aug. 28, regarding next steps following the fire that destroyed the port’s Spring Street Land building. / Steve Wehrly

The Port of Friday Harbor Commission’s second “special meeting” about the Downriggers fire could pretty much be summed up as, “second verse same as the first.”

Neither the commission nor port Director Marilyn O’Connor had much new information to impart at the Aug. 28 meeting, but the crowd of about 50 (about half the number that attended a first special meeting a week before) was more than willing to take up the slack.

Commissioner Mike Ahrenius said that even though the downstairs is not destroyed, “the property probably can’t be used” until the building is either rebuilt or replaced. The town has told the port that the downstairs cannot be occupied for the foreseeable future, if ever.

O’Conner said other insurance adjusters would be inspecting the building in the coming days; port Attorney Frank Chmelick added that the “replace or rebuild” question could not be answered until insurers declared whether the building would be a total loss.

Commissioner Greg Hertel offered an informal statement of principles regarding the future of the burned Spring Street Landing building, including the first commission statement that “it is our intent that the same businesses that were in the Spring Street Landing before the fire will be there when a rebuilt Spring Street Landing is reopened.”

O’Connor said she would not disclose anything she was told about the cause or location of the fire “until we have received the definitive written report” from the team of investigators who completed their work last week. She also would not confirm speculation that the fast work of the investigators (they were finished by last Thursday) meant that nothing was found that suggested arson as a cause.

Most vocal were Bish Wheeler of Friday Harbor Yachts and Mike Close of Friday Harbor Marine, the two sister companies that occupied most of the floor downstairs from Downriggers.

Wheeler is anxious to move his boat from C-dock to N-dock to use as an office; Close wanted action on his proposal to wire a junction box so that he could use an air compressor to fill dive tanks. Both wanted decisions by the Port so that the final six weeks of tourist season could be salvaged.

San Juan Safaris owner Brian Goodremont echoed Wheeler’s comments, saying he “wants exposure equal to what I have now” - and he want a first right of refusal to move back into whatever replaces the burned structure.

“Some things have been done,” said Close, “but other things could be done now.”


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