Eagle Harbor liveaboards: Their water world may end

Published online: Nov 23, 2010 News Jonathan Martin - Seattle Times staff reporter
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The liveaboard sailboats and houseboats in Bainbridge Island's Eagle Harbor swing free in the wind and tides, just as they have for a century.

The residents of this bohemian community of 14 or so - who's really counting? - like it that way. They don't pay rent. They row in with their sewage in containers, and row out with news from the mainland.

As of Dec. 15, however, it may come to an end. The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which owns the tidelands in which the liveaboards set their anchors, served eviction notices last week after years of negotiations with the city of Bainbridge Island broke down.

State rules enacted in 2002 were written specifically to allow "open-water marinas" like this. But reaching an agreement on the fine details by the state-imposed Oct. 1 deadline evaded DNR, the city, liveaboards and homeowners along the harbor.

Solutions are still being floated, and neither the city nor the state is eager to see it come to a head.

Ray Nowak, a merchant-marine seaman who favors a black beret and gold hoop earring, has lived aboard houseboats in the harbor for 20 years. His neighbors include "Toothless Jeff" and "the smelly old lumberjack."

He said many of his neighbors are willing to pay reasonable lease fees, but are now tired and fearful of the short-term future. And angry.

"I despise bullies," Nowak said of the state. "I've decided I'm going to dig in my heels and make a stand. I'll be here until they put their jackboots on my cleat and say I can't tie up here."

Open-water squatters

There are hundreds of liveaboards nestled into marina slips on Puget Sound, paying monthly lease fees for the use of state land.

The Eagle Harbor liveaboards represent a much smaller number who are essentially open-water squatters. The appeal of those unregulated arrangements combines an environmentalists' aesthetic joy with an off-the-grid seafarer's curmudgeonliness.

The state has a complicated relationship with liveaboards, regulated and unregulated. In 2000, former state Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher tried to ban them from all 2.6 million acres of aquatics lands, including marinas, for ecological reasons.

Read more at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2013470444_liveaboard19m.html

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