Marina Projects Stirred Emotions in Northern Door

If you thought the only places to find pouting, walk-outs and shouting in 2009 were the school playground or a health care forum, you didn’t make it to any of the marina discussions in Egg Harbor or Gills Rock.

Tempers flared and composure was sometimes lost as the communities debated the merits of costly marina projects.

In Gills Rock, residents feared the prospect of a $13 million marina project that seemed a foregone conclusion to many.

The 98-slip project left some gasping at the tax implications it would carry and others fearing the end of the quiet hamlet as they’d known it for generations.

As citizens speculated and rumors spread, the Town of Liberty Grove struggled to communicate its plan for the shoreline and the process it would follow in evaluating the proposal.

Many citizens were in favor of buying 11 shorefront properties in Gills Rock but not if it meant building the largest marina in Northern Door. It wasn’t until May that the board, under the direction of new Chairman John Lowry, articulated the difference between the property purchase and the marina project with a formal resolution.

The resolution stated, “…separating the acquisition of land from the structures associated with a harbor may mean a cleaner and more focused approach. The Town of Liberty Grove shall first study the acquisition of parcels in the Gills Rock area that will (1) forever guarantee access to the water, and (2) provide adequate property for any future activity that may be planned for the area.”

It also assured residents that any land purchase would go to the voters for approval, as would any future plans for harbor structures.

That resolution quieted opponents for the summer, allowing the town to shift its focus to operating in a makeshift town hall at the Ellison Bay Women’s Club as the old hall spent the second half of the year under construction.

But just as the storm in Gills Rock quieted, another reached full force in Egg Harbor, where the village board pushed ahead on a $6.6 million marina expansion and reconstruction project. The plan had been approved in the summer of 2008, but a successful November referendum that required the village to get voter approval for any capitol improvement project with a price tag over $1 million sent it back to the voters.

That held off construction for another year as the village scheduled a May 26 referendum on the project, which failed narrowly, 87 – 81. Stunned by the result, the village board and marina proponents scurried to regroup.

A citizens committee produced a scaled-back alternative plan that was eventually rejected by the board. Citizens crammed into the Bertschinger Center for meetings to debate the proposals that sometimes devolved into shouting matches, with thinly veiled insults directed at board members and coming from them.

Though the board rejected the alternative proposal in whole, it would incorporate many of its ideas into a new plan that it brought to voters, including lowering the breakwall by 2.5 feet. Finally, a reconstruction plan capped at $6.5 million passed July 28 by a tally of 104 – 75.

Construction began in earnest in the fall with a goal of completing the marina in time for the 2010 boating season. In December, however, another hurdle arose as the Peninsula Shores Condominium Association challenged details of the permitted design. Construction will continue as the Department of Natural Resources debates the merit of that challenge.

As the year came to a close, Gills Rock and Egg Harbor were much quieter than when it began, thanks to hard-won compromise. The year that began with almost $23 million worth of marina projects on the table in the two communities and heels dug into the sand, ended with a better, more affordable project in Egg Harbor, and a new commitment to communication in Liberty Grove.

At least all that arguing got us somewhere.