What's all the fuss about Strawberry Cannery Park?
There is a lot of confusion out there about what the real issues are surrounding the various options for Strawberry Cannery Park.
This is one of only three properties on the entire island with any real potential for informal gatherings by the water, together with a handicap accessible public float for small boats - the other two being Waterfront Park (with a very congested public dock - the only one available on the island for small boats, and no real place to sit in small groups and enjoy the water), and Blakely Park (with little potential for easy public access to the water). So what to do with this potential park is a significant question for all islanders, and will have an effect on our community identity for as long as there is a community here.
Supporters of the current plan being considered by the City have tended to cast it as the only environmentally conscious option, and anyone who opposes it as someone who just loves concrete and wants to keep it as it is. The current plan involves excavating the shoreline back from the water 50' or so and turning it into a marsh, with nearly all of the shoreline then being "exclusively" and "in perpetuity" off limits to people. A native vegetation zone would be planted which would effectively screen off any view of the water from the upland portion of the park, with only a trail to the now extensive mudflats and small viewing platform remaining as a connection to the water. Parking would be extremely limited (perhaps a plus in some people's minds but a hardship for those less able or wanting to launch a hand carried boat). While this is being billed as "restoration", this plan is actually to create an artificial marsh by straightening the formerly undulating shoreline and moving it further inland than it ever was before, while leaving intact a narrow concrete jetty along the side bordering the creek, due to its being in part on the property of a neighbor.
On the other hand are supporters of what was the original vision of what this park could become when it was acquired through a swap for the John Nelson parkland located next to the B.I. Winery. (This gift of land from John Nelson being donated "for recreation, amusement, and education for the people".) This original vision, articulated by many, including several of the Council members at the time, highlights shoreline restoration that maintains the natural contour of the land, a sustainably designed float for accessible launching of non-motorized boats, gathering areas with views of the water, and the possibility at some point in the future of a community center for celebration of our history and passing on to future generations the love and care for wooden and human powered boats.
Two widely divergent visions, and neither vision is to leave all the concrete just as it is, despite what some might like you to believe.
So what is special about this site, and how might that influence us towards one direction or the other (or towards something more in between)?
I have already mentioned one special fact, which is that this site is one of only three on the entire island with any real possibility for location of a dedicated float for launching of human powered boats. The existing dock at Waterfront Park is already quite congested, and siting a float at the park in Blakely Harbor could be very difficult.
Strawberry Cannery Park already comes with rights to construct one or more docks, which run with the land. There is adequate area for parking, so this would not impact neighborhood streets. As a former industrial site, Strawberry Cannery Park already comes with many additional amenities including a substantial foundation upon which a building housing a center for wooden boats and/or celebration of island history could safely be constructed, and even three phase power if ever needed. There is an existing artesian well that could be used for fire suppression. It is a relatively large parcel, set back from the road. Given the high cost and near unavailability of large undeveloped low bank waterfront parcels, it is hard to imagine any other site ever becoming available for such a park. Other cities in the area, including Port Townsend and Seattle, have established wooden boat centers, and have found them to be wonderful assets for the entire community, largely constructed through private donations.
So why would this site be a compelling place to spend close to $1 Million in scarce restoration dollars, even at the price of removing most of the shoreline of this park from human use "in perpetuity"? There is little real evidence in this direction that I can discern. Originally, City staff touted it as lying within the 186th environmentally worst stretch of beach on the island, out of 201, according a study commissioned by the City. It turns out that the beach City staff were pointing out was a different stretch of beach, one that contained a large marina, and the stretch containing Cannery Cove Park was actually tied for 40th place - meaning it was already among the top 20% environmentally best stretches on the island, despite it being in Eagle Harbor! Since the time of the report, the State has removed the creosote pilings that were once there, so it would likely rank even higher. When this discrepancy was pointed out to City staff, they agreed, but remained dead set on their plan for restricting public access and restoring this shoreline whether it needed it or not! All my training as a civil engineer tells me that if you want your best bang for your buck, you look at remediating the worst areas first, and not waste a lot of money on areas that are already among the 20% best.
Another argument seems to be that it doesn't really matter where we spend this money because it mostly comes from a trust fund set up to compensate for the Creosote site, and there is no requirement that it actually be effective. This seems to me a pretty cynical viewpoint. If the money is not spent here, it would still be available to be spent in ways that could easily make much more of a difference for fish - such as daylighting a few stretches of creek that are now in culverts. If citizens were asked to be involved, I'll bet a lot of good ideas would come up, with the possibility of public/private cooperation that would stretch these dollars even further, while engaging the community in a positive way.
Perhaps there is the argument that this would be a good demonstration site, for the City to show what it thinks real shoreline stewardship looks like. If excavating the shoreline back 50' or more and turning it into a marsh is what the City staff would hope other shoreline owners would do, after seeing what the City did to the public's property, I think they have another think coming. I believe that modeling creative, environmentally sensitive development, especially in an urban setting, would win a lot more converts.
About the only other argument I have heard is that the City doesn't own any other properties they could do this to, so if they want the grant money now, this is the only option. This appears mixed with pressure from adjacent property owners who appear to want to strongly limit public use of public property. While I believe it is important to take into account the legitimate desires of adjacent property owners, I also believe it would be irresponsible for the City to completely capitulate to these desires over the needs of the community at large.
These hardly seem compelling reasons to give up most public use (and view) of the shoreline "in perpetuity" in a $1.5 Million public park within walking distance of downtown Winslow. Maybe Bainbridge Island doesn't want a park that celebrates its waterfront heritage and that provides a setting for young and old to gather together to learn old skills and appreciation for each other, with safe and easy access to the water for human powered boats, with restoration money spent in ways that will really benefit the environment. Maybe we would rather have a marshland, largely off limits to people, with a concrete jetty on one side, and a tiny viewing platform we could occasionally walk to, with arguably less benefit to the environment than if restoration money was spent where it was more needed. Or maybe there is a more creative solution in between. I strongly believe this is a significant decision for the island, and one in which more than a few staff and adjacent neighbors need to weigh in. The real issues here are about how we go about community building, and how we define our island.
I believe this park has a wonderful potential as a place to enjoy and access the waterfront, and could become a community defining asset, or we could easily throw away that possibility.
We will be living with the decision "in perpetuity".
Roger van Gelder
363 Wallace Way NE #27