No cars, no trucks towing boat trailers, no mode of travel but for feet and maybe bicycles can pass.
With barricades blocking vehicles from crossing the bridge across the railroad tracks north of Titlow, the Tacoma Outboard Association clubhouse stands empty at the end of Hidden Beach Road.
Dust settles through sunlight inside the building and a calendar stands at October 2015. No small craft roll down the concrete ramp and into the tides of the Tacoma Narrows.
The TOA has leased the property from Metro Parks since the early 1950s, and the lease allows access to a ramp where club members may launch.
But without access, this might be the end of the 71-year-old club.
Or maybe not.
“We are a launch facility for small boats,” said Dave McKeen, the TOA’s vice commodore.
The clubhouse and launch ramp stand on about a 4-acre slice of shoreline south of the Narrows bridges and just north of Titlow Beach. The TOA beach is open to the public as part of the 72-acre park, but the clubhouse grounds, including a barbecue and picnic area, are not.
The property is reached from Sixth Avenue and curls through forested parkland toward the water.
Before reaching the club leasehold and the beach, a wooden bridge leads across the BNSF mainline tracks.
The bridge, Metro Parks Tacoma says, requires repair — more than $1 million worth — and along with the barricades, the span carries a warning that vehicles using it cannot weigh more than 5 tons.
“It’s an old bridge,” said Michael Thompson, Metro Parks’ public information officer. “We had some safety concerns.”
“We did an inspection last month, and we are very concerned at how that bridge is standing up,” he said. “It‘s a safety issue. The bridge needs to be replaced.”
In the meantime, a consultant, Thompson said, recommended the 5-ton limit — a limit that still allows some TOA members to cross to the boat ramp and the clubhouse.
Metro Parks, which owns the bridge, will allow access again if the TOA ensures the 5-ton limit is enforced. A TOA officer has said that would be impossible.
Metro Parks has suspended any lease payments — $55,000 annually — the club would otherwise be required to pay this year.
Meanwhile, because there is no accessible launch facility, membership in the club is dropping from a recent high of 388 members.
Along with solutions, the membership has begun considering alternatives.
“We need to be able to cross the bridge,” said Dave McKeen.
“They close the bridge, they close the club,” said TOA trustee Justin Wilson.
At a recent monthly meeting of the TOA, some members voiced concern that Metro Parks was trying to take back the property and use it for public rather than private purposes.
The Metro Parks’ master plan for Titlow Park indicates otherwise.
It calls for the ongoing presence of a boat club, stating, in part, that “(the) master plan recommends that the boating club use be continued with expanded provisions for public access and use of the site. ... Metro Parks should continue to manage Titlow Park to include facilities for a private boating club.”
Said Thompson, “Keeping TOA there as a private club and improving public access are not mutually exclusive ideas. Actually, since the bridge closure applies only to vehicles, pedestrians are still using the bridge to get to the walking loop, beach and other public areas out there.”
Olympia-based Sargent Engineers, along with Metro Parks staff members, have established preliminary estimates to cure the bridge predicament:
▪ To upgrade the condition of the bridge and raise its height to accommodate train travel would cost $1.14 million.
▪ To build a new bridge, $1.3 million.
▪ To build a pedestrian-only bridge, $1 million.
▪ The build an at-grade crossing (problematic at best), $1 million.
“Metro Parks intends to build a bridge or repair the existing bridge,” Thompson said. “What that would look like depends on the TOA.”
Metro Parks has asked the TOA to share 60 to 80 percent of the $1 million-plus repair or replacement costs of the bridge, Wilson said.
TOA treasurer Cindy McKeen said the club counts a total of $29,000 in checking, savings and investment accounts.
Another wrinkle concerns the septic system at the site, now broken and controlled by TOA.
The system can be repaired, and the club likely could find a $40,000 bank loan to fund repairs, McKeen, the vice commodore, has said.
But bankers would be unlikely to lend to an entity at risk of losing its home, that, and repair vehicles are unable to reach the site because of the barricades on the bridge.
“We can’t fix the septic system,” Wilson said.
The Pledge of Allegiance led to committee reports at the latest meeting of the TOA, held at Metro Parks headquarters and attended by 46 members.
Committees reported on an upcoming Kickoff Cruise, and there were details reported concerning the Daffodil Festival’s marine parade, and there will be an upcoming visit to a Tacoma Rainiers game.
There was a report on fishing, and the recent Easter egg hunt, and then came talk of the bridge, the clubhouse and the future of the club.
“How can they expect us to pay for improvements we don’t own?” someone said.
Indeed, if the TOA leaves, then Metro Parks will take possession of the clubhouse and other improvements. Same with improvements to the bridge, even if the TOA paid the bulk of the cost.
Someone suggested the club hire an attorney.
“It sounds like they just want us to build their bridge,” someone said.
“I don’t think we’ve got a snowball’s chance,” said the vice commodore.
“The railroad needs to have more responsibility.”
“Someone should call Warren Buffett. He bought the railroad.”
“It’s totally unrealistic for our club to bear the cost.”
“We don’t have access to the club. The insurance company is concerned.”
“I keep hoping for a best-case scenario,” said TOA Commodore Corinna Daniels, after the meeting adjourned.
“We’re looking at Plan B, changing the club, keeping the club going, finding a way to keep us all together,” she said. “We all love boating. This was not what I was expecting. We just don’t want the club to go away.”
Daniels was pleased, she said, that “the members were able to ask questions they needed to ask.”
That, and she was pleased that three faithful members paid their dues that night.
SOLUTIONS, OR NOT
City Councilman Robert Thoms has suggested that BNSF might be able to help.
“I would be willing to work with Metro Parks and TOA to engage BNSF on behalf of the city to see if there is a viable solution, if there is a logical solution,” he said.
BNSF Railway spokesman Gus Melonas said the company would need more information before officials consider the matter.
Commissioner Erik Hanberg said Metro Parks has been unsuccessful in reaching TOA’s leadership to discuss what to do.
“This is something that Metro Parks and TOA should be jointly figuring out an answer for,” he said. “It should be a shared responsibility between the two of us.”
“Let’s talk about the public good,” Hanberg said. “Are there opportunities for the public to use that space? There is no conflict to have a private club there. There should be no reason why we can’t have a club and other public amenities.”
“We want them to succeed, but as steward of public money, we need to have a balance,” said Thompson, the Metro Parks spokesman.
“What Metro Parks wants is a guarantee that they will not allow vehicles beyond that weight limit,” he said. “If they could do that, we would allow them vehicular access. If they can provide something in writing — 10 people have keys, five people have keys — they could use (the bridge). They can have keys, they can control access. Metro Parks would be comfortable with that. We would trust TOA to carry out its commitment.”
That’s more than the TOA can do, said McKeen, the vice commodore.
“If nobody’s there to watch them, there’s no real way to stop them,” he said of people who might cross the bridge with a vehicle weighing over the limit.
“I just don’t know any way to police it unless we have anybody there 24/7,” he said.
“We can’t guarantee it.”
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535