WARRENTON — Everyone else on the City Commission was ready to sign off on a draft quitclaim deed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that, once finalized, will give the city its long-sought ownership of the Hammond Marina.
But Mayor Henry Balensifer lingered over the paperwork.
“It’s been five years,” he said, somewhat apologetically, as he flipped through the pages and paused to read certain sections. “I don’t want to screw it up.”
City Manager Linda Engbretson had provided the City Commission with copies of a draft version of the agreement at a meeting Tuesday night that she was ready to send back to the Army Corps to finalize.
After reviewing the draft, the commission voted to authorize Balensifer to sign the quitclaim deed once it is finalized by the Army Corps and approved by the city attorney. The vote marks the beginning of the end of a land transfer process that has dragged on for the past five years and has been desired by the city for even longer.
Full ownership will give the city significantly more freedom to pursue not only plans to improve and develop the marina, but also the funding necessary to pay for the projects.
Last summer, Engbretson and other city leaders believed Warrenton would have ownership before the end of the year. Now, Engbretson is confident the city could finally be in possession of the marina in August.
The City Commission’s approval of the draft quitclaim deed Tuesday prompted applause from the small audience of mostly city employees and marina task force members present.
“It doesn’t feel real yet,” said Jane Sweet, the harbormaster who oversees both the Warrenton and Hammond marinas for the city. “It feels like we’ve been here for years, but I think it’s really going to happen this time. There’s so much potential out there.”
The arrival of the draft deed in front of the City Commission coincided with a presentation by a city task force that has been working to flesh out ideas about how to improve the marina.
Some of the recommendations were short-term goals they hope to accomplish within the next year: Items like pet waste stations or implementing annual parking and day use passes and jump-starting a community campaign.
Looming large on the list is dredging, which Sweet plans to accomplish between the city’s dredging window in November and December. Bid documents will likely go out this month. Because the city did not own the property, it has struggled to secure outside funding to dredge in the silted-in marina in recent years.
Farther out, the task force hopes to open up more camping spots and tie into the Fort Stevens trail system, add garbage cans at key sites, develop a boardwalk and, ultimately, replace all the docks. That last item could come with a $5 million price tag and is included on the task force’s Phase III list of projects many years down the road.
The City Commission and the task force are also considering the possibility of creating a design theme for the area to guide future development. Perhaps along the lines of a Nantucket fishing village, Commissioner Pam Ackley said.
As more and more ideas popped up, expanding out from the marina to a vision of a revitalized Hammond overall, Commissioner Rick Newton commented, “It’s hard when you’re starting with a blank slate.”
“But exciting,” Ackley replied.
Whatever happens at the Hammond Marina, the site needs to continue to be available for public use. A reversionary clause in the draft quitclaim deed states the marina needs to remain a public facility. It can’t be sold off for condos or real estate or else ownership reverts back to the Army Corps, Engbretson said.
But, she added, “we will no longer need to get permission for everything we do.”
“We should look into the health department’s rule for having an elk barbecue,” Balensifer joked.
Commissioner Tom Dyer considered this idea.
“We’d need a big rotisserie,” he said.