To charge or not to charge

Alex Doty • Jul 18, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Grand Haven City Council had a chance to listen in on the discussions surrounding the controversial move to begin charging boaters to moor along the city’s seawall overnight. 

Earlier this summer, boaters shared their concerns after being approached by marina staff who asked them to pay a $10 fee to moor overnight along the wall.

The fee — part of the city’s fee structure since fiscal year 2005-06 — has since been suspended while the city debates the future of the mooring policy.

Boaters say they weren’t pleased with the sudden implementation of the charge this summer.

"I'm a little upset by the mooring fee on the seawall," said Grand Haven resident John Lynch, who said he's boated in the community for more than 20 years.

Lynch said Grand Haven is chasing people out of town with its boating rule changes.

"The town has become less and less friendly (for boaters) is the general consensus of the seawall users," he said, noting changes in policies such as not allowing those who moor along the seawall access to the restroom and shower facilities at the Municipal Marina.

Spring Lake resident Mark Blondin was also critical of the plan.

“There was no warning, there was no signage, there was no information,” he said. “It was just — here, (pay) $10.”

Blondin also noted that he didn't think it was smart for the city to be sending out young employees to enforce the charges, given the potential for people to have adverse reactions to the policy.

The city has cleats installed all along the boardwalk from Waterfront Stadium down to the Government Basin for boat mooring, but city officials say that the wall isn't designed for long-term use.

"It is deliberately designed to accommodate day users, not overnight users," City Manager Pat McGinnis said. "Boaters will sometimes spend a long time on the seawall. That's not why we have the seawall."

City officials say they’d like to limit the practice of overnight stays on the seawall for a few reasons:

— The city tries to operate a break-even business at its marina. With slip vacancies on most nights during the summer, officials note that it would be better to drive business to the marina instead of the wall.

— When seas get rough, it isn’t safe to stay on the seawall; the marina is a safer haven for boaters.

— Officials have also pointed to some boaters who’ve stayed for very long periods on the wall.

"We think we might look into a policy of 72 hours on/72 hours off," McGinnis said.

That time restriction would allow boaters to stay as many as three nights on the wall, and another three nights would need to pass before they could reattach overnight. This, McGinnis notes, would give city officials the opportunity to track lengths of stay and require boaters to leave when they have stayed too long.

"In order to implement that, we would need to have proper monitoring," McGinnis said.

This would require an employee to record which boats are on the wall each night and again each morning.

Officials note that if the city spent three hours per day checking boats, recording and verifying stays, the cost from Memorial Day to Labor Day would be $30 per day, or $2,700 for 90 days of monitoring.

The costs to monitor the boats would be offset if the $10 fee is charged, McGinnis noted.

If reinstated, McGinnis said the fee would be done on an honor system. He said signs would read, "$10 overnight mooring fee in effect. Please pay at marina office. Length of stay limit is 72 hours." There would be envelopes and a drop box at the marina office for boater convenience.

City Council made no decision on the mooring policy Monday night, as the item was only discussed during a work session.

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