Lovrić’s Sea-Craft of Anacortes, a landmark 58-year-old marina and shipyard on Guemes Channel, was sold in mid-February to Stabbert Marine and Industrial (SMI) of Seattle.
President and CEO Dan Stabbert said the shipyard will specialize in vessel refit, repair and maintenance, and the marina has been named Guemes Channel Marina.
Stabbert and his wife, Cheryl, founded their company in 1978, and own a shipyard in Ballard and a fleet of eight vessels that support the maritime industry.
Stabbert chose not to disclose the terms of the sale. The upland and tideland parcels —10 in all — total about 22 acres and have a combined assessed valuation of $3,734,200, according to the Skagit County assessor.
John Lovrić, who served as general manager of the company founded by his father and mother, was reluctant to speak about the sale, which ends an era of boatbuilding in his family that goes back10 generations here and in Croatia.
“It is a heart-breaking subject for me,” he wrote last week. “I don’t know yet how I feel about an interview.” He and his wife own Jamie’s Signs and, in November, purchased Anacortes Printing which publishes The Clamdigger, a widely distributed classified ads magazine.
A particular niche
SMI now owns one of two shipyards on the Anacortes side of Guemes Channel. The other is Dakota Creek Shipyards, which does vessel construction. Stabbert said his Anacortes shipyard will not do vessel construction but will perform vessel maintenance, refits and specialized conversions.
The opportunity to acquire the Anacortes marina and shipyard was a rare one, Stabbert said.
“It’s very difficult to find private waterfront commercial property between the Canadian border and Olympia,” said Stabbert, who lives on Orcas Island. “We have a small facility in Seattle and our goal is to expand that into this area. This has some good deepwater moorage and we’re hoping to support the maritime industry here like we do in Seattle, and this gives us some more options.”
Stabbert indicated the acquisition provides better access to the crab boats, trawlers and tugs that his company services.
“Dakota Creek is a really good yard and they build beautiful ships and they’re new construction,” Stabbert said. “I think there’s a need for the repair and maintenance services we offer. We’re not a new-build yard. When people ask us who we think one of the best shipyards to build new vessels are, we always give Dakota Creek as one of our recommendations. We have a lot of respect for them. We do a vast majority of the tugboats in Puget Sound and we do a lot of trawlers and crabbers, so we have our own little niche where we shine as a family.”
The shipyard has a drydock, two marine railways with 650-ton capacity and 50-foot breadth, a wood shop, steel fabrication shop and a machine shop as well as moorage for larger fishing boats and other commercial vessels.
Stabbert said his company is interested in serving the green maritime industry, such as vessels with diesel-electric propulsion. Several of the vessels in his company’s fleet are diesel-electric and provide support services to companies that install wave- and wind-energy systems.
Pollution cleanup order on hold
With the sale, SMI assumes environmental liability and cleanup responsibility for the site, which in July 2019 was listed as a contaminated site by the state Department of Ecology. Tests of marine sediments collected in 2016 and 2017 revealed levels of benzoic acid, copper, phthalates and polycyclic aromatics that exceeded federal pollution standards.
In a letter at that time to Lovrić’s Sea-Craft, Ecology wrote that it was seeking a cleanup order requiring the company to remove contaminated aquatic soils by dredging, and to remove creosoted pilings, repair shoreline armoring and improve maintenance of its marine railways to control stormwater runoff.
Throughout the property there are inoperable equipment, abandoned vehicles, derelict vessels and portable structures that must be scrapped and removed.
Stabbert estimated cleanup will take about two years, but he didn’t know how much it will cost.
“We put a lot of work into preassessment and studies and professional engineering and so forth, so we went into this with our eyes open,” he said. “At the end of the day, it has to make fiscal sense, and it does, or we wouldn’t have gone through with the transaction.”
“It took almost two and a half years to put this together,” he added.
Ecology, however, is not requiring of SMI what it was requiring of Lovrić’s in 2019.
Barry Rogowski, program manager of Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program, said the state wouldn’t step in and order a cleanup as long as SMI continued to improve the condition of the property, including management and storage of waste and control of stormwater runoff.
“We have told them that when they’re at a point where they’re going to be either removing structures or they can no longer operate, or if there’s any imminent environmental risk that comes to light, that at that point in time we will initiate a cleanup,” Rogowski said. “We’re letting them operate and letting them take any steps they can to improve the overall cleanliness and operation of the property at this time and not have them start digging everything up right now.”
SMI has begun cleanup of the site. An excavator was moving debris and scrap steel for disposal or recycling. An old boathouse and a mobile home were prepared for removal.
The company will assess the condition of two 1912 buildings on the property — one is a former cannery, the other a former factory that made products from fish offal. They are the last buildings from Anacortes’ past as the self-proclaimed “Salmon Canning Capital of the World,” when 11 canneries operated along the Anacortes side of Guemes Channel.
“We need to see where they fit in with building and earthquake codes, and we’ll work with the local community and the building department and see what we can do with those buildings in a way that benefits the community,” Stabbert said,
SMI will improve the shipyard and plans to hire more personnel.
“You’re going to see a larger organization and, with all respect to the Lovrić family, one with a little more structure, policies and procedures,” Stabbert said. “We hope to employ more local individuals. We’ve already put 10–15 people on the payroll there and we expect to employ 30–40 people. It won’t be huge, but it will be sufficient to carry out the work effectively.”
Cleanup alone will require “a lot of manhours,” he noted.
‘Blood, sweat and tears’
Lovrić’s Sea-Craft was founded in 1965 by Anton Lovrić, a Croatian naval architect and marine engineer who had immigrated to the United States five years earlier, and his wife, Florence. They established the boatyard and marina at the former site of Robinson Fisheries and the Russian Cement Co., which made glue, fertilizer and fish oil from fish byproducts.
Lovrić’s had a rustic maritime vibe, with interesting pieces of history all around. Along with the two 1912 cannery-era buildings, the hulk of the schooner La Merced, acquired by Anton Lovrić in 1966 for use as a breakwater, is a third landmark. Built in 1917, the vessel had been converted for use as a floating cannery in Alaska in the late 1920s or early 1930s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — though not much remains of the vessel today.
Anton Lovrić also acquired a decommissioned section of the Interstate 90 floating bridge for use as an outer dock.
Several notable boats were brought in for restoration at Lovrić’s shipyard, among them the two-masted sailboat Varua, built in 1942 for noted author and circumnavigator William A. Robinson.
Low moorage costs attracted boat owners whose dreams were bigger than their pocketbooks: among them, the M/V Chilkat, a former Alaska state ferry converted into a scallop tender; and the Acushnet, a decommissioned Coast Guard cutter. Both vessels ultimately were abandoned there by their owners.
“The Lovrićs put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into that business and were very creative,” Stabbert said. “It was their family home and their business for more than 50 years.”
The last five years were particularly rough for Lovrić’s Sea-Craft.
Ecology’s cleanup notification came in 2019.
Then, in January 2020, a 140-foot barge that was to be scrapped began to take on water, was towed to shallower water and sank. Three years later, the sunken barge is still there.
At about the same time, a floating workshop sank in the shipyard, its roof visible above water.
The Chilkat and the Acushnet broke free from their moorings when their dock — the former I-90 bridge section — sank in a January 2021 storm. The Acushnet was rescued by a tug but the Chilkat drifted east and sank. It was salvaged later that month at a cost of $800,000, which was paid by the state Department of Natural Resources Derelict Vessel Removal Program.
The company tried to stay ahead of, or at least keep up with, environmental regulations that John Lovrić said were ever-changing. In a March 2021 interview with the Anacortes American, he said his company removed an estimated 80 creosoted pilings from the marina and shipyard at no cost to the company, thanks to a state program.
Lovrić said at the time that his company was doing its own stormwater sampling and was developing a plan to capture stormwater runoff from the marine railways.
He was proud of his company’s record. “We have a good record with no injuries,” he told the American, “We have a lot more regulations to follow nowadays. But we’ve been in business for 55 years. A lot of businesses can’t survive for five.”
— Reported by Richard Arlin Walker