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James Robert Daniels

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Boat Parking Only
By James Robert Daniels   

Last edited: Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2003

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Live-aboard community under attack

Boat Parking Only
by James Daniels
Dennis Donner has been a US West technician for 23 years. His wife, Julia, has been a buyer for a major department store for 21 years. Jim Doub has a software business, and his wife, Sharon, works within walking distance of his business and their home. Together, they operate a sailing tour business. So why would these people become homeless? In March of 2000, they and nearly thirty other families were served eviction notices. They live aboard their boats at three marinas in Lake Union in Seattle, Washington. These marinas extend over lake bottom belonging to the State and managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). When their leases came up for renewal this year, DNR mandated that owner Diamond Parking, Inc. must evict all people living aboard. According to DNR's Commissioner of Public Lands Jennifer Belcher, she's enforcing the State's 1984 Aquatic Lands Management Act. In a letter to the Editor of the “Seattle Times” in April, she declares, “As we manage the public aquatic lands we're finding frighteningly large numbers of trespassers who have decided to use public lands for private benefit, without regard for the lost opportunities for the general public.” In March of 2000, they and nearly thirty other families were served eviction notices. They live aboard their boats at three marinas in Lake Union in Seattle, Washington. Not so, say the boat owners, who have since formed the Liveaboard Association of Puget Sound (L.A.P.S.), “dedicated to preservation of a way of life.” They've hired an environmental and civil rights lawyer to fight the evictions. According to official releases of the DNR, the 1984 law “directs the agency to ensure the environmental protection of these precious aquatic resources. The law prohibits new or expansion of existing non water﷓dependent uses on state﷓owned aquatic land, except under exceptional circumstances.” Don Stonehill, liveaboard and L.A.P.S. chairman, recently asked the State Legislature, “Please tell me....what is more water dependent than a boat? He analyzed the State law and asked again, “Is not a boat the most prime example of "water﷓dependent” use? There is no language which states that one can not live on board their boat.” A report in “The Seattle Press” quoted a DNR spokesperson on this question of use: "You wouldn't want people to start living in the state parks, would you?" she asked. But the State leases this land to private marinas, which rent slips to boat owners. The report concludes, “A more accurate analogy would be to suppose that DNR leased some state land to RV park companies who then rented spaces to RV owners. Would it make sense for the state to prohibit sleeping in the RVs?” The repercussions to hundreds of households on Lake Union are also a worry to boat owners, liveaboards, and citizens across the State. The implications are there too for liveaboards elsewhere in the country, especially the large numbers in California and Florida. Teri Johnson and her husband live aboard their sailboat in Port Townsend, Washington. In a June 2000 letter to the editor of the regional magazine “48 North” she suggests an answer to the “why” of this controversy. On Bainbridge Island, three (waterfront owning) individuals have tried for years to outlaw the liveaboards anchored out in the harbor. Johnson points out that the specific references used by Commissioner Belcher, including “Hong Kong Harbor,” and the analogy of a motor home in a State Park, are direct quotes of one of those individuals in her letters to the Bainbridge City Council. Further, those residents have for the last two years been using the “water dependent” argument against the Bainbridge Island liveaboards. A report in “The Seattle Press” quoted a DNR spokesperson on this question of use: "You wouldn't want people to start living in the state parks, would you?" she asked. Johnson passed on a statement of four years ago by a State Department of Ecology official: “The issue is not really the environment. What it really comes down to is that you people don't pay property taxes and waterfront property owners don't like that, but of course I can't say that on the record.” L.A.P.S. has filed a lawsuit to stop the evictions. The court date is set for October 2001. Assistant Attorney General Grossmann told the liveaboards on June 5th that the DNR is willing to hold off on evicting them. Grossmann's letter prompted the Association to issue a release saying it has been given a reprieve. But a DNR spokeswoman said that as of June 9th, such a deal has yet to be approved by Public Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher.
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