Submitted by Merri Ann Simonson
During the real estate boom years of 2005 through 2007, waterfront homes on San Juan Island appreciated around 8-10% per year and homes with docks appreciated around 13%. Docks have always been a coveted property amenity as they truly allow easy access to boating; the reason many want to live on an island.
Many, many years ago, docks were easy to obtain and were often used for making a living such as fishing, crabbing, commercial boat use and marinas. In today’s environment, docks are very difficult to obtain. The last few residential docks that were constructed were shared and took 2+ years with most of the delays within the Corps of Engineer’s various departments. Total costs for the legal fees, hard and other soft costs were in the range of $200,000-$400,000. Reportedly, the legal fees were in the range of 25%-40% of the total but this varied based on the amount of opposition and delays.
Even if you have the funding, there is no guarantee that your dock application will be approved. It is possible, but you must have a strong desire, be stress resistant and have deep pockets.
I pretty much tell my clients that processing a dock permit is a difficult option; they need to buy a home or lot with an existing dock or slip, if having one is in their criteria. Further, considering one of the public marina facilities is another solid solution. We also have condominium boat slips in a few of the towns that are a great option.
The property owners on the non-ferry serviced islands without community moorage have a less difficult time obtaining permits as the County can’t argue they have a feasible alternative, however, they may view a mooring buoy as an alternative. The process for an outer island dock is the same and their cost of construction is similar but their attorney’s fees may be less due to less opposition.
We have many different sizes and types of docks in the islands as all are custom-built. The older docks are mostly wood with creosote pilings. Newer docks include grated plastic material on the piers, floats and aluminum ramps to
let in the light. The pilings are all concrete/metal. These new docks are all environmentally friendly based on current technology.
Docks that were installed prior to the creation of our permitting department in the mid 1970 (s) are considered grand-fathered-in and permitted repairs can be made. Any structure repairs such as piling and float replacement must be permitted. The response period for a permit from the Corps of Engineers and County is several months, if not longer. Smaller repairs such as replacing a few boards also requires a permit.
Under the Shoreline Management Program, if you are replacing
33% or more of the structure, or 200 square feet, it is necessary to bring the replacement section of the structure up to current code; i.e. g. using functional grated materials.
Over the years there has been concern over the “porcupine” effect of docks on our shoreline; we didn’t want to become Lake Washington. As per the assessor’s records, we currently have around 480 piers in the County, located on our 2,489,800 lineal feet of shoreline. Other than manually counting, I was unable to determine how
many of the 480 piers are public or marina facilities, such as Roche Harbor, Port of Friday Harbor and other County piers. The assessor conducted their survey by counting the piers; not floats ramps or slips.
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