2011-03-10 / News

Boat yard owners discuss proposed revisions

By Geoff Campbell

The owners of the four boat yards in Jamestown want to know why mooring rates are headed up and are seeking a better definition from the town of who is responsible to pay for what costs.

Representatives from Jamestown Boat Yard, Clark Boat Yard and Conanicut Marine services discussed the controversy. The conversation centered on reactions to the proposed revisions by the Harbor Management Commission to the Harbor Management Ordinance and the Harbor Management Plan. Although the Eichlers, owners of Dutch Harbor Boat Yard, were out of town, they were available by phone after the meeting.

Sarah Clark from Clark Boat Yard, Clem Napolitano from Jamestown Boat Yard and Bill Munger from Conanicut Marine Services were quick to agree with Jim Clark, also from Clark Boat Yard, who said, “We are all on the same page.”

The gathering agreed that Napolitano captured the principal issues when he said, “It boils down to what is the town responsible for in terms of recreational amenities for the public. If there were no moorings, what would the town be responsible for, and by the addition of moorings, what should those mooring fees pay for. That to me is what defi nes this argument.”

Napolitano stated the problem using three main points.

First, he said, that if it doesn’t relate to a mooring, the mooring user should not bear the expense. Next, he mentioned that the lease agreements should support maintenance of property in the context of a clear definition of the property being leased. And thirdly, he believes that the town should take ownership of recreational amenities for its residents and visitors.

Clark added, “Those boundaries have not been defined, that’s where the overlap is and we are getting charged ‘x’ amount for a mooring permit but some of it is going to infrastructure which we are not responsible for. The fees are financing other things.”

Napolitano explained that each boat yard has a “different business model.” He pointed out the differences based on marina services, slips, moorings, repairs and modifications, and types and quality of boats, which impacts the relationship that each has with the town.

Conanicut Marine Services and Dutch Harbor have lease agreements with the town. The Clark and Jamestown boat yards do not, Napolitano said. Those lease agreements are for use of town-owned infrastructure such as Dutch Harbor’s lease of a portion of the deck at West Ferry Pier for winter storage, Munger added.

Napolitano said that the revenues from the leases at East and West Ferry “do not support the service [cost] on the lease.” He questioned whether or not the town makes every effort to obtain a price for the lease that is at the “market rate.”

“That depends on what is being leased,” Munger said. “At East Ferry, it’s a public space, and there is no boat storage in the winter. It is a partnership with the community to provide access to the bay, so work the numbers backwards from that.”

He added that the same is true at West Ferry: “There are no fences or gates; there is no exclusivity.”

Alison Eichler of Dutch Harbor echoed Munger’s sentiment that the relationship with the town and the community is a partnership and that Dutch Harbor embraces that responsibility of helping to manage a portion of the community’s access to the bay.

She also emphasized the positive collegial nature of the relationships between the boat yards and between the boat yards and the town.

Conanicut leases the North Pier – formally known as the steel pier. Munger pointed out that the lease does not include land space, only water space.

“If you look at the numbers that [Conanicut Marine Services] has paid the town over the last 10 years, I say that the town is cash ahead on our lease income,” Munger said. “The question becomes, what are the perimeters of what is being leased. [We are] leasing one-half an acre of water space, and the land space is part of memorial square. There are other users of that space [with] lease access.”

“One of the things that makes us nervous as boat yards [is] the infrastructure account is as broad as you want to make it,” Munger continued. “There are some things that are going to come into infrastructure maintenance that has to be done; there are other things that come into the picture as a whim. You can have a person that wants the project, there’s no need – the political planets line up and it just happens.”

One example of that, Munger said, is a recent expenditure by the town of $225,000 on a third touch-and-go dock.

“It’s a wonderful gesture to the boating public around the bay,” he said, “but it is not something that we needed.

“If any one of us was going to spend $225,000 in our boat yards we would really do some serious head scratching. We would really do a need analysis, we do some surveys internally, and we would look at this thing 18 different ways.”

Munger continued: “In today’s world, the firewall between the fee income and everything else, it’s been a good thing for the boating public. Operations take in a little bit over $100,000 from the two leases plus the 10 percent [transfer] from fees. But there is more than the 10 percent from fee money that goes into that because the operating budget is always fat and the residue from the operating budget also goes into the other side.”

Munger said that it is the position of the boat yards that “the public is much better served” by the two-budget system – one for operations and one for infrastructure.

Jim Clark said that whatever is left over from operation goes into the infrastructure budget. “So it is back to those boundaries of who is responsible for what and that hasn’t been determined yet?”

Jim Clark continued: “If there were going to be an increase, it’s quite a bit that just seems very extreme given the economy now and if it were determined that we needed more money it should be incremental anyway not a big jump like that.” The increase could be more than 20 percent.

“You’re right,” Munger said, “We wouldn’t have those kinds of increases so long as the firewall stays in the budget and there are two budgets.”

“And it goes back to the mooring permit fees are paying for what they should be,” Jim Clark said, “with a surplus.

Munger said that he does not have a problem with the transfer. “It’s a donation, and it’s a gesture.”

“The 10 percent should cover the gray areas,” Napolitano said. “That’s our contribution to the gray.” Sarah Clark agreed.

Jim Clark said that the Feb. 22 hearing “served the town well. We all voiced our opinion, and people decided not to push it through, which was a really positive thing. Our voices were heard and not just from the boat yards but from everyone else.”

Munger added, “It was a good open discussion.”

The owners are pleased that the Commission will revisit the issue by holding workshops with various constituencies including the boat yard owners.

Munger added, “As operators we are extremely sensitive to costs because it is an extremely competitive world right now, people are on the margin, and they could give up their boats and just play golf.”

The potential of “snowballing costs” passed on to the boating public is one fear, Jim Clark said.

Sarah Clark took a different tack: “Everybody benefits from full mooring fields – the boat yards and the town.”

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