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Channel Dredging, Runway Work and Job Creation in Port’s 2012 Budget

The Port of Skagit will focus next year on economic development initiatives aimed at bringing good jobs to Skagit County while investing in infrastructure maintenance, as outlined in the 2012 operating and capital budgets approved by the port commissioners on Nov. 15.

The operating budget projects a 5 percent increase in revenues from 2011 to $4.7 million and a drop in expenses of 4 percent to $4.3 million. Strong occupancy rates at the port’s facilities account for the improved revenues. Port-owned buildings at the Bayview Business Park and hangars at Skagit Regional Airport are full, while moorage occupancy at the La Conner Marina is currently over 90 percent. In addition, the port will hold the line on salaries and the number of employees during 2012, while cutting back in nearly two-thirds of its operating expense categories.

Two major projects dominate the $14.195-million 2012 capital budget.

  • The port expects to contribute up to $400,000, along with partners, during 2012 toward the cost of dredging the Swinomish Channel, which is rapidly silting in. The cost of dredging the channel completely is estimated at $1.2 million. Since 2008, the port has been working diligently to acquire federal funding and permits for the next session of dredging. Unfortunately, changes in federal dredging policies and the elimination of earmarks in Congress have stymied those efforts, so the port is working with the Port of Anacortes to form a consortium of local agencies that will assume responsibility for keeping the channel open. Skagit County’s economy would face severe repercussions if the channel were allowed to close to boat traffic. A 2008 study found that the combined maritime activity on the channel generates total employment of 1,045 jobs with income of $50.3 million, and marine businesses and boaters on the channel generate sales of approximately $92.6 million in business revenue annually.
  • The Runway 10-28 crown conversion at Skagit Regional Airport is a $12-million project that is expected to create approximately 350 construction jobs. The Federal Aviation Administration will contribute 95 percent of the project cost from its construction trust fund, which is supported solely by taxes on aviation fuel and airline tickets. The port will provide $600,000 in matching funds for the runway project.

Several citizens attended the public hearing on the draft budgets Nov. 8 and spoke in favor of the capital budget.

Steve Hopley of Samish Island encouraged the port commission to include the $400,000 in the 2012 budget for the dredging of the Swinomish Channel.

“I see the need for us to handle this locally,” said Hopley, a Port of Anacortes commissioner who is leaving his seat at the end of the year. “Someone needs to take the lead and I applaud the port’s effort. We can no longer count on federal funding, as the funding is not there.”

Tom Hill, manager of The Outlet Shoppes at Burlington and also a La Conner store owner, said the overall impact on Skagit County of losing the Swinomish Channel as a navigable waterway would be “significant.”

“I can’t convey enough how this impacts the entire community. I am very concerned about the loss of jobs and other impacts if it isn’t dredged,” Hill said. “It would have a catastrophic effect on the Town of La Conner, local jobs and it will even affect commerce in the City of Burlington. From upriver out to Anacortes, we’re in this together.”

Tim Lewis, owner of Corporate Air Center at Skagit Regional Airport, spoke in favor of the runway project. He noted the importance of the airport to Skagit County’s economy.

“Skagit Regional Airport is an off-ramp to Skagit Valley,” he said. “Businesses that choose to use this off-ramp represent the business class and commerce to the valley. The Bellingham airport focuses on commercial traffic, and Skagit should focus on the business class.”

The port’s property tax levy will produce income of $1,821,177 in 2012. That’s a change of about $600,000 over last year, with the additional money going toward channel dredging and the runway project. The port commissioners said it was important to keep the increase as small as possible and pointed out that the rise in property taxes would cost the owner of a home in the port district valued at $200,000 an additional 4 cents per day.

Other uses of property tax revenues included in the 2012 budget include economic development initiatives, $390,735; infrastructure-related bond payments, $609,183; community outreach, $126,019; and memberships, $95,240. Port policy dictates that property tax is not used to pay for operations.

If you are a reporter seeking information about the Port of Skagit, please call Andrew Entrikin, community outreach administrator, at 360-757-0011 or email andrew@portofskagit.com