On October 3, 1913, voters approve creation of the Port of Bremerton. The new port is the fourth public port district formed in Washington following passage of the Port District Act of 1911, and the first in Kitsap County (which will eventually form more port districts than any other county in the state). The Port is formed in response to a lawsuit by the Bremer family, heirs of the city's founder, that challenges the new municipal wharf the city built to end the Bremers' wharf monopoly. After taking over the municipal wharf and successfully resolving the dispute with the Bremers, the Port will remain largely inactive for 30 years. After re-emerging in the 1940s, the Port will expand to cover most of South Kitsap County, acquire and enlarge Kitsap County Airport (later renamed Bremerton National Airport), and develop an industrial park near the airport. The Port will also develop successful marinas in Port Orchard and Bremerton and work with other agencies to revitalize Bremerton's waterfront.
By a Vote of the People
The establishment of the Port of Bremerton is tied to the origins of the town of Bremerton itself. In 1891, William Bremer (1863-1910) purchased an 88-acre tract of land along the north side of the Sinclair Inlet, designating 25 acres to plat the town of Bremerton. Though Bremer died in 1910, his estate, which included a large amount of waterfront property, remained in the Bremer family. By 1912 citizens of Bremerton were grumbling that the wharfage tolls at the Bremer-owned wharf -- the only ingress to city -- were too high, and in 1912 citizens voted for $35,000 in bonds to build a municipal wharf. On January 1, 1913, a large crowd gathered to witness the dedication of the new $20,000 municipal wharf.
The Bremer family, however, saw the municipal wharf as an encroachment on their landholdings. In 1913, the family filed a suit through the State Land Commissioner in an attempt to force the city to remove the section of the new municipal dock that allegedly "blocked public waterways" and extended over the Bremers tidelands (Seattle Daily Times, October 16, 1913). The suit would have forced Bremerton to cut off 50 feet from each end of the wharf.
In August 1913, Bremerton Mayor Paul Mehner organized a mass meeting in Eagles' Hall, where a decision was made to hold a special election on October 3rd to create a Port Commission. In naming a Port Commission, a September 1913 Seattle Times article speculated, the affairs relating to the municipal wharf controversy would shift to the Port Commission, and this shift could result in the State (via the Land Commission) dropping its suit against Bremerton.
On October 3, 1913, citizens created the Bremerton Port District by a 284 to 127 vote, electing B. F. Harrison, Bremerton Mayor Paul Mehner, and J. F. Ross as Port Commissioners. The Bremerton News remarked that the Port District won by a "large majority but the entire vote was very light and indicated slight interest" (The Bremerton News, October 4, 1913). (A 1912 Seattle Times article estimated that in 1912 the population of Bremerton was at 5,000, though the 1910 census gave it a population of 2,993.) According to official documents, the Port District would "[comprise] the territory within the corporate limits of the City of Bremerton, including the harbor area as now or as it may be hereafter established and such portion of the navigable waters of Port Orchard Bay and Dyes Inlet as may now hereafter be included in the corporate limits of the City of Bremerton, Washington" (Petition for Formation of Port District of Bremerton).
Following the election of the Port District, the Bremerton City Council turned over the new municipal dock to the Port, thereby complicating the lawsuit filed by the Bremers via State Land Commissioner. The Port hired Seattle attorney J. W. Bryan to represent the Port in the lawsuit. After “repeated conferences,” a “satisfactory” agreement was eventually reached between the Bremer estate and the Port whereby the municipal wharf would be permitted to occupy its position without a reduction in its length (Seattle Daily Times, May 8, 1914).
In the wake of this settlement, the Port of Bremerton was largely inactive until 1943.
The Port Expands
After 30 years of relative inactivity, the Port of Bremerton reemerged in a special meeting on January 18, 1943. Mill operator J. D. Braman was elected chair of the Port Commission; also elected were Harold A. Kemp and B. A. Getchsmann. Throughout the 1940s, the Port focused on the waterfront areas of Bremerton, Dyes Inlet, and Port Orchard Bay, though no large initiatives were undertaken.
In 1956, voters approved an expansion of the Port of Bremerton to include all of Kitsap County south of the Silverdale port district with the exception of the Colby, Waterman, and Manchester districts. This expansion, in conjunction with the failed movement to rename the Port of Bremerton the Port of South Kitsap County, reflected the people’s hope that that the Port’s expansion into Kitsap County would provide a “vehicle for better industrial and economic growth in Kitsap County.”
Airport and Industrial Park
In a manifestation of this inland movement, Kitsap County deeded nearly 1,200 acres in southwest Kitsap County to the Port of Bremerton in 1963; included in this land was the Bremerton National Airport (then known as Kitsap County Airport). The Kitsap County Airport, located seven miles from the town of Bremerton, had belonged to the County since 1939 and was used throughout World War II by Navy pilots flying into the area in relation to their duties at the Puget Sound Naval Yard. When the Port took possession of the airport, there were two 5,000-foot-long runways and hangar space for 30 small aircrafts.
On July 1, 1983, the Port renamed it Bremerton National Airport, in recognition of the largest urban center in Kitsap County and in 1989 a commuter airline service between Bremerton National and Sea-Tac Airport began. Today, Bremerton National is the largest airport on the Kitsap Peninsula with an all-weather, fully lighted 6,000-foot runway.
The remaining acreage donated to the Port by Kitsap County went to developing an industrial park. The Port began planning the park, located across State Highway 3 from Bremerton National Airport, in 1968, though a lack of railway service to Kitsap County proved to be a deterrent for private industry. In 1972, the Port received a grant from the Economic Development Administration that helped install utilities and road access and helped procure manufacturing plants on the site.
The 560-acre industrially zoned Olympic View Industrial Park opened in 1974 with Imperial Manufacturing Company as the first tenant. Today, both Bremerton National Airport and the Burlington Northern Railroad serve the industrial park, which currently hosts 30 industrial-based tenants and contributes $218 million annually in new income to the Kitsap economy.
Along the Waterfront
In the early 1970s, the Port looked to the waterfront to establish a marina. After examining potential marina development sites within its jurisdiction, the Port settled on the Port Orchard waterfront. Constructed in 1974 at the cost of $1.9 million, the Port Orchard Marina quickly became a popular destination for boaters throughout Puget Sound.
The Port Orchard Marina continued in its popularity throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. In 1986, the Port built guest and permanent moorage additions, bringing the permanent moorage slips to 352 and guest slips to 250. However, in 1996 the marina was severely damaged by a snowstorm that sunk the covered moorage and floats, causing an estimated $8 million in damage. The repaired marina re-opened on April 3, 1998, with 347 slips. It remains a popular destination today.
Citing the public benefit of the Port Orchard Marina, the Port of Bremerton looked into developing a marina on the Bremerton waterfront. Though the Port had examined the Bremerton waterfront for a marina site in the 1970s, it had concluded that the Bremerton community was “simply not ready” (WPPA 1992 Port of the Year Nomination). The Bremer family still owned much of the waterfront property and had invested very little in its development. However, in 1984 the Port of Bremerton undertook condemnation proceedings to obtain a portion of the Bremer-owned waterfront for a public waterfront access project. After several years of challenges and negotiations, the Port of Bremerton once again entered into an agreement with the Bremer trustee and in 1986 the Port acquired two blocks of the waterfront for development of a marina and other public access space.
In the wake of this victory, the Port proceeded to develop the $1.7 million 50-slip marina for visiting boaters complete with a 500-foot handicapped-accessible breakwater. In addition to the construction of the marina, the Port worked with the City of Bremerton, the Bremerton Historical Ships Association, and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Centennial Committee to development a larger public waterfront park and walkway, the USS Turner Joy historical navy destroyer permanent moorage system, and the Puget Sound Navy Shipyard Centennial plaza. Many hailed the redevelopment of the Bremerton waterfront as a fresh economic start for the town and for Kitsap County. The Port’s collaborative efforts and contributions to the Bremerton waterfront development earned the Port of Bremerton the Washington Public Port’s Association 1992 “Port of the Year” award.
Bremerton Marina Expansion
But despite the positive reception of the marina in 1992, its success was diminished by fact that the 500-foot breakwater did not prevent the wash from the state auto ferries from rocking boats berthed in the marina. In 2001, the Port began looking at ways to expand the marina and in 2006 announced that the Economic Development Administration was providing $3 million toward the project, with the support of Senator Patty Murray (b. 1950) and Representative Norm Dicks (b. 1940). Even with the $3 million from the EDA and additional $1.5 million in other federal funds, however, the $34 million project needed to be funded through industrial development and general obligation bonds.
In 2006, the Port established an Industrial Development District to help pay a $17.7 million bond issue they had secured for the project. In 1957, Washington passed RCW 53.36.100, a law that allows Washington ports to tax property owners within their taxing districts 45 cents per $1,000 in property value for up to 12 years to “raise funds for capital investment and improvements, acquisition and development, environmental work, and debt service within a Commission designated Industrial Development District for development of Port properties and facilities.”
The Port of Bremerton’s Industrial District Levy No. 2 document asserts that it “examined numerous financing options ... . It was concluded that in order to fund the marina project, a combination of many financing means would be necessary. It was determined the planned redevelopment would require the use of the Industrial Development District (IDD) levy” in “cooperative pursuit” of the goal of “renewal and rehabilitation of downtown Bremerton in the interest of the health and welfare of the residents” (Industrial Development District No. 2 Levy).
The Port’s decision to establish an Industrial District Levy proved to be controversial one, as citizens in the Port District did not have the opportunity to vote for the property tax but were nevertheless obliged to pay for the marina’s construction over a six-year period. By law, citizens could have petitioned to place the IDD on the ballot during a 90-day objection period, but the Bremerton marina tax largely fell under the public’s radar until the objection period had expired.
The redeveloped Bremerton waterfront and marina debuted in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 31, 2008. Described by the Kitsap Sun as a “glittery christening ceremony,” the 300-slip marina was full and the 2,000-foot public waterfront park was crowded and complete with music from a Navy band (Kitsap Sun, May 31, 2008). Representative Norm Dicks and former Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozemen were in attendance, as was Mary Ann Huntington, a former Port Commissioner who was voted off the commission in the wake of the IDD Levy controversy.
In July 2009 the Kitsap Sun reported that the marina, heralded by the Port in 2008 as a $10 million a year income generator, was not filling up and would not reach 50 percent occupancy for the year. Port CEO Cary Bozeman (former Mayor of Bremerton, hired as the Port’s CEO in June 2009) stated that the recession was taking a negative toll on the marina and that the projected time it might take for the marina to fill up has been pushed back to 2014.
SEED Project and Envisioning the Future
The Port of Bremerton launched the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project in 2004, another controversial initiative. SEED intended to provide 75 acres in the Olympic View Industrial Park to clean-energy companies that were focusing on developing alternative energy forms. Although the project was given $1 million in funding from the County and $2.58 million in federal grants, after much deliberation Bozeman recommended that the Port Commissioners not go ahead with the project, as it would mean creating a budget hole of an estimated $4.3 million. In August 2009, the Port Commission voted to kill the SEED project, despite the Port's expenditure from 2004-2009 of an estimated $1 million on SEED.
In March of 2010, the Port returned the $2.58 million federal grant for SEED. Bozeman and the Port Commission are now charged with building public trust and bringing new jobs to Kitsap County.