On a quiet fall day — with Lake Washington still and offering a mirror surface — hanging out at the Luther Burbank Park waterfront docks is a magical experience, said Paul West, the Mercer Island Parks & Recreation Capital Projects and Planning manager.
West, who is an avid sailor and kayaker, said that the Luther Burbank waterfront scene is an interesting mix of paddleboarders, kayakers, power boaters, fishers and sunbathers. The Island’s popular youth boating program regularly fills up within 12 hours of registration opening.
“All those things together mean that the docks are pretty well used for three out of four seasons. It’s a pretty diverse use,” said West, noting that the shoreline is a crucial community gathering spot. “One of the things about Mercer Island is that it’s an island and people value access to the water.”
The docks were built in 1974 and have an estimated five remaining years of useful service left, according to the city, which is exploring ways to repurpose the berths in the next four years.
According to the Mercer Island Parks & Recreation Department, one concern is that the fixed height piers aren’t useful for smaller boats, and they are looking at likely reconfiguring one or more of the piers to become floating docks while the remaining pier is repaired.
Residents began visiting the docks on Sept. 2 to view an outdoor six-poster display of project alternatives. As of Sept. 22, the city had received 78 responses on its virtual open house to collect feedback about a new docks design. The survey has been extended through Oct. 7 because the city lost more than a week of feedback when people avoided the outdoors during a spell of unhealthy air quality. People can also visit the open house online and leave comments at https://letstalk.mercergov.org/lbdock
While they haven’t checked the survey feedback yet, West said that during his discussions with residents, he’s heard that some want better access for their boats and others wish to continue fishing and sunbathing off the dock.
“The Mercer Island public really likes to weigh in on stuff like this. It really is part of doing our due diligence,” said West, adding that when his department visits the city council at the conclusion of the design process with a plan, council will ask how they devised the design and if their decision involved outside input.
When West and his colleagues seek funding sources — state and federal grants — they will be asked the same questions that council presented.
After perusing the survey feedback and getting a feel for the trends and public opinion, a design team and city staff will spend October developing a concept to run by the Parks & Recreation Commission hopefully in November, West said. Next up will be presenting the final preferred alternative to council for its approval.
A grant from the Boating Facilities Program in the amount of $173,000 is helping fund the design effort, said West, adding that fundraising and possibly a voter initiative could provide funding along with the state and federal grants. Securing permits is next and then construction, which would take the entire process to the four-year mark. West said the docks could be completed by the summer or fall of 2024.