Legislators hope proposed law could boost marine tourism


PORT TOWNSEND — Proposed legislation that would lift restrictions on long-term repairs for visiting boats would significantly enhance economies on the coast.

“In Jefferson County, both tourism and marine trades are huge; they create a lot of jobs and a lot of money,” said Diane Talley, a representative of the Port Townsend Marine Trades Association.

The bill is now under development for the upcoming session of the state Legislature in January.

“This bill isn’t just about creating jobs for the marine trades, but it’s about all the money that the marine trades will bring into Port Townsend,” Talley said.

About 125 people attended a presentation on the matter at the Northwest Maritime Center this past week.

State Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege, both D-Sequim, both told attendees they were in favor of the proposal.

The two represent the 24th District, which covers Jefferson and Clallam counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

Currently, individually owned boats can enter Washington state waters with no restriction for the first 60 days and can extend the permit twice for a total of 180 days. If they stay after that time, they must leave the state or pay a tax equivalent to 10 percent of the boat’s value.

Boats owned by entities instead of individuals are subject to a different standard and are allowed only 60 days of moorage before the tax is required. The proposed legislation would treat both vessel types the same and would create $29 million in new spending statewide, according to the association.

This change would make Washington state port facilities a more hospitable option for large boats in need of extended repair, said association government affairs Director Peter Schrappen, who moderated Monday’s discussion.

“Right now, we are losing a lot of this business to Canadian ports, where boat owners don’t have to pay any tax at all,” Schrappen said.

“When one of these boats comes into port, it’s like a movie coming to town,” he said. “It injects a tremendous amount of money into the local economy.”

The bill was introduced during both the 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions but died because of a lack of momentum, Schrappen said.

DRAFTING A NEW BILL

His organization is drafting a new bill for introduction in the upcoming legislative session.

Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett and a Port Townsend native, will sponsor the bill in the state Senate. Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, has been recruited as the sponsor in the House.

Van De Wege said he expected strong support from the 24th District’s legislative delegation.

“There are some people that are not supportive of the bill. These seem to be the same people we butt heads with all the time,” Van De Wege said. “They create reasons to oppose things, but we can work to get past this. Next year, when the people who aren’t supporting the bill are speaking out, you may want to call them up and tell them that the bill is good for your community and good for your livelihood.”

“We will see if we can overcome the opposition to this,” Van De Wege said, without identifying who the opposition could be.

“Opposition to bills like this that help my community and create jobs in my community is the No. 1 reason I became a legislator,” Van De Wege said. “I love battling with people who think this is not important.”

Said Tharinger: “This is not a slam dunk. But we have some advantages this year. We’ve had a rough budgetary situation that we are starting to work out of, and people are more open to looking at different things.”

Shrappen also has more optimism for the upcoming session.

“We didn’t tell the story well enough last year,” Schrappen said of the bill’s past failures.

“And the fiscal note on the bill scared off a lot of the legislators who aren’t on the water,” he added.

Schrappen said the fiscal note states that the tax would lose $5.5 million in tax revenue if the bill passes but that it would create $29 million in new spending that would more than compensate for that projected loss.

“We’ve been fortunate because we’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of help from Olympia,” said Port of Port Townsend Director Larry Crockett.

“But all the help we get from Olympia will be returned to you tenfold.”