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Paddlers still searching for home of their own

The Gig Harbor City Council selected a proposal from the Gig Harbor BoatShop for use of the house at Eddon Boat Park. The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Team also submitted a proposal for the house.
The Gig Harbor City Council selected a proposal from the Gig Harbor BoatShop for use of the house at Eddon Boat Park. The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Team also submitted a proposal for the house. Staff photographer

The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Team is used to sprints, but Monday night’s Gig Harbor City Council meeting was a marathon.

The three-hour-and-45-minute meeting, which clocked out around 9:15 p.m., was standing room only with extra seating being set up in the foyer outside the council chambers. On the agenda were proposals for use of the Eddon Boathouse by both the Gig Harbor BoatShop and the team.

In the end, the council accepted the proposal from the BoatShop, citing a lack of space for either shared tenants or the entire racing team. In the course of discussion, the council began to consider a parks bond that would fund restoration of the Ancich property and provide a potential future home for the team.

City staff will gather information about a parks bond process and bring it back to the council at a future meeting.

The crowd of paddlers was large, and athletes, parents and community members spoke about the racing team’s many honors and its positive contribution to the city. The team rallied at council to show that it was concerned for its future in the city.

“I just have some grave concerns. Thirteen years I’ve been working with the kids in this community. I teach them to dream and I teach them to work hard … but I also teach them that it’s a time to make a stand, and this is that time,” coach Alan Anderson said.

Speakers also aired concerns that without a stable environment the national championship-winning team may begin to fall apart.

“This team has the potential to produce an Olympic athlete and I would hate to see this team fall apart before that happens,” said Nani Woodard, a team member.

The BoatShop, on the other hand, feels the house is essential for its own growth and that sharing the space “would be devastating for BoatShop operations,” according to an email sent out to members before the meeting.

BoatShop members who spoke to council expressed sympathy for the team, but said that the space was simply too small. Nigel Davey, a BoatShop member, said he had looked at both sides and while the racing team deserves a home, Eddon Boat Park isn’t the right fit.

“That dock is just not big enough to sustain it,” he said. “I happen to believe that the Gig Harbor BoatShop is not (a suitable) home. It’s just too small and it’s not set up to do it.”

Longtime council member Steve Ekberg remembered a council meeting long ago when the house was just as packed. It was when members of the BoatShop pleaded with the council not to demolish the boat house in favor of a subdivision.

“The BoatShop is really the primary reason we have Eddon Park,” said council member Ken Malich.

It was a $3.5 million voter-approved bond that purchased the 1.3-acre site in 2004. The approval meant a 28 cent per $1,000 assessed value increase to buy the land.

Another bond may help the racing team, Ekberg said. The plan hatched almost two years ago was to fix up Ancich Park and include a space for human-powered craft.

“As far as I’m concerned that vision has not changed,” council member Tim Payne said of Ancich Park. “You have, basically, a home that was envisioned for you.”

Speaking for the racing team, Linda Glein said that no progress had been made on Ancich Park, so a future home seemed uncertain no matter what the vision has been.

The refusal by the BoatShop to share the space has been frustrating for Glein and the rest of the team.

“I have been baffled and appalled by the attitude of the BoatShop,” she said. “I can’t understand why the BoatShop hasn’t embraced this beautiful group that works hard.”

Currently, the team is housed temporarily at Skansie Park and uses Jerisich Dock. It’s the most heavily used dock and can be a bit of a traffic jam in the busy summer. The team is in the park thanks to a December 2013 city contract. In fall of 2013, the team was asked to leave its home at Pleasurecraft Marina after it grew too big for the marina to house.

Anderson said the team appreciates the lifeline thrown by the city, but the temporary home is not an ideal situation for the steadily growing program.

“It saved us… but it’s a temporary location,” he said. “We’re making the best use of it ... it’s got challenges but we’re making do.”

Being waterfront vagabonds hasn’t been easy for the team, but its reality, said parents and athletes.

“Our team is affectionately known as ‘the parking lot team,’” said parent Helen Barker. She is a former member of the Washington State racing team.

Before the hearing began, Mayor Jill Guernsey floated the idea of sending the boathouse proposals through a committee process. She said the two organizations had sat down together previously, but it had not led to a comprise.

Compromise or no, she said, there’s still issues with the site in general.

“To me, it’s like the elephant in the room,” Guernsey said before the hearing. “Even if we leased, (the house) has not been improved for use other than a single family residence.”

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