The Scalawags of South Park Marina Look for New Homes

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The construction of replacement for the South Park Bridge remains up in the air, but some residents are already being displaced
King County may not actually get the $99 million in federal stimulus funds it needs to move forward with construction on a replacement for the famously decaying South Park Bridge. As of today, the recipients of the $1.5 billion in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants have yet to be announced. And according to a King County spokesperson, they won't until at least late January.

But that hasn't stopped the county from proceeding as if its coffers are flush enough to break ground, a can-do attitude that's led to eviction notices for several property owners living near the bridge.

In December, property owners were sent notices by the Washington State Department of Transportation informing them that they had until February 28 to find other accommodations. The move surprised no one: King County has been in talks with the locals for years, and most have already agreed to sell. But some of these folks are living in the shadow of the bridge, and might not have anywhere else to go.

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The South Park Marina boat yard as seen from the bridge
Just west of the bridge, a small community of boat builders and other scalawags has sprung up inside the South Park Marina's boat storage area. Here is where they work and sometimes live when restoring their boats. Alongside the crumbling 80-year-old span, they've built makeshift shelters of plywood, tarp, and whatever other other materials they can scrounge. Some have been there for years, and not one of them is built up to code.

Now they're being asked to move out. King County has offered to financial assistance, but the problem, say renters, is that there aren't a lot of places in King County proper to store, in some cases, 30 feet of not enitely sea-worthy metal and wood.

According to an irritated Craig Holman, King County has "seriously jumped the gun." Holman has stored his Erickson 30 sailboat at the South Park Marina off and on for the better part of a decade. Like many of the renters, he's taking King County up on its offer to front the cost of moving his boat. Finding an affordable space for it has proved difficult, given that his next best option is Shilshole Marina in Ballard. Rent-wise Shilshole is the champagne alternative to South Park Marina's Natural Light. And, unlike the South Park Marina, Shilshole does not allow owners to restore their boats on site.

A number of the renters have already left, and many others are making preparations--with the uncertainty of whether or not they will be able to move back if King county doesn't get the grant. South Park Marina owner Guy Crow says the county has agreed to purchase the property outright. If the funding comes through, the plan moves ahead and there won't be much left of the property for renters to return to, he says.

Things get murkier if King County fails to get the grant. In that event, says King County Road Services spokesperson Linda Thielke, construction of a new bridge will shelved until additional funding can be found. But whether they will still buy the parcel where the boat yard now stands is an open question.

"It's my understanding that they might purchase the property anyway in preparation for building something down the road," says Crow. "But anything might happen."

Whatever the eventual outcome, Justin Craig, another renter at the marina, says he'd rather move prematurely than have to scramble at the 11th hour. "Have you ever moved a boat?" he asks rhetorically. "It's a pain in the ass."

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