By BRADEN LAMMERS
JEFFERSONVILLE — Boat owners docked along Jeffersonville’s riverfront won’t be allowed to stay along the city’s shoreline beyond Nov. 30.
A letter sent to the boat owners who currently dock their boats in Jeffersonville’s marina on the Ohio River read that the Jeffersonville City Council refused to approve funding for the planned dock renovations and new marina, and without these renovations the existing docks are a public safety threat.
With the notification, Jeffersonville terminated the boat owners’ leases with the city effective Nov. 30. The leases are renewable year-to-year and the expiration date for 2013 was the Nov. 30 date.
“Now that the council has said, ‘no’ to the new docks, there’s no reason to extend [the leases] to the March date,” said Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore. Winter fees extend to March, then the rate goes up for the boating season — March through November. “I don’t think it’s in Jeffersonville’s best interest to let boats continue to dock there.”
Parks Director Paul Northam, who authored the letter, said that there are only about six to eight people that stay at the docks during the winter season.
“In order to inventory and take a look at them we needed them to leave,” Northam said of the boat owners’ docks. “The city felt like it wanted to get a better handle on things are being maintained down there.”
He added that about 30 of the other boat owners that rent docks in Jeffersonville are leaving during the winter anyway. And with the boats gone, the city will be able to determine which docks, if any, are in need of repair or replacement.
One of those people who docks his boat only during the boating season is Jeffersonville boat owner Bill Schwab, who has been a fixture on the riverfront for about 12 years.
He said the Jeffersonville boat owners club is set to have its monthly meeting on Friday, where they may reach a decision on what to do next.
“It immediately doesn’t affect me, but it might affect me in the spring,” Schwab said.
A CHANGE IN PLANS
After the city initially unveiled its plans to revamp the downtown marina, it gathered input from the Jeffersonville boat owners, and amended its plans to allow them to remain along the riverfront during the renovations.
The plan was to reconstruct 54 individual fixed-boat docks, in addition to a 200-foot floating fishing pier, in two phases. Other improvements included sewer connections, new lighting and a new road with a turnaround along the marina. The engineer’s estimate for the project was $2.2 million.
Along with the renovations to the marina, the prices for the renters was slated to increase. Fees would total $1,200 for a season — April to November — for a boat 24 feet in length, and $600 for winter mooring. For each foot beyond 24 feet, the boat owner would be charged $50 for each additional foot during the season, $25 per foot in the winter. Current fees are about $1,125 annually.
The two amendments that would allow the city to pay for the project, out of its Tax Increment Finance funds, were voted down by the city council earlier this month. At the same meeting the council passed a resolution that authorized the city to continue with the marina plans, but stopped short of designating funding until a full detailed construction plan is delivered to the council.
Despite the contradictory votes, the process to get approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing. Public comment on the plan is open until Dec. 2 and Jorge Lanz, president of Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz, Inc., who presented the details on the marina plan to the council, said it would be about 30 to 45 days after the public comment period closed before a permit could be issued.
At the Nov. 4 council meeting Lanz warned that a denial by the council could lead the corps to pull the permit for the project. Lanz has since backed away from that contention, and said Thursday that after subsequent conversations with the corps, he does not believe the permit will be pulled.
Max Hagan, environmental engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District, said that the corps has not received a request to pull the permit.
“If it’s not contrary to overall pubic interest then we would OK the project,” Hagan said. “I do not know of any reason why would not approve processing the application request.”
He added that the corps has approved a project before a funding mechanism is in place and a financing instrument is not necessary to hand over permits. But if the corps knows of a public instrument has been denied, or will be denied, then the corps can deny the application without prejudice.
SAFETY HAZARD ?
The rationale for moving the boat owners out of the docks by Nov. 30 is that they have been deemed a public safety issue.
Moore said Jeffersonville Police Department and Fire Department officials, and the city’s insurance carrier, all recommended that the docks were a public safety hazard.
“I am not the one that determines public safety issues,” Moore said.
Calls made to JFD Chief Eric Hedrick were not returned as of press time, but he said at the council’s Nov. 4 meeting that the docks were a public safety hazard.
“There have been discussions between the fire chief myself and the mayor about the safety of the docks,” said JPD Chief Chris Grimm. “Anybody can tell that they are not safe.”
But the boat owners said that it is the city owned docks that are in disrepair.
“The docks that are a public safety threat are the ones that are owned by the city,” Schwab said. “They are a bunch of docks that have been abandoned over the years.”
He added that he put down new concrete for his dock about five or six years ago and most of the boat owners along Jeffersonville’s riverfront have well-maintained docks, they just don’t match.
“If they gave guidance over the last 20 years on how they wanted the fingers to look, the boat owners would have done that,” Schwab said. “All of the docks would be up to snuff and they would all look the same.”
The city may force the current boat owners to leave their docks, but the plan to revamp the marina, at least for the city council, is not dead.
“My view of the marina is the city council passed a resolution to move forward,” said City Councilman Nathan Samuel. “I think we’re on the same page with the mayor for wanting a marina. In my mind we are just steps away from approving the marina. I don’t know why there is a need to dislocate the boat owners.”
Samuel again explained why the council voted against amending the TIF district to finance the plan in early November. He said that the council was waiting on definitive construction plans for the project and actual costs of construction.
The $2.2 million estimate has remained consistent since renderings of the marina were drafted earlier this year.
“I want to know what I’m voting on is based on a plan, not just renderings,” Samuel said. “I’d rather have time to digest the information on a $2 million project I don’t that’s asking too much.”
Samuel said he received the construction plans for the marina that were submitted to the corps Thursday, but on the coversheet for the plan the document still said “not for construction.”
City Councilman Mike Smith was also at a loss for why the letter removing the boat owners had been sent out.
“I don’t understand that,” he said. “We had until Dec. 2 for public comments. I don’t understand what the mayor’s trying to do. He’s basically running these people off, when before he said they could stay. He can kick them out [but] that has no bearing on the marina. This is the mayor’s decision, this has nothing to do with the council.”Smith did agree, however, that many of the docks along the river are dilapidated.
“Some of the docks are not a public safety hazard, some of them are, I’m not arguing that,” Smith said. “We’re just waiting on the final plan with a final cost so we can approve the money.”
Smith said when he is presented with a final plan and a final cost for the project, he would go ahead and vote to amend the TIF plan to pay for the marina.
Schwab said despite the turmoil surrounding the Jeffersonville docks, he will come back next year if there is availability.
But if the cost goes to high, he may look elsewhere.
“If they raise the price to what they want, it will be better for me to stay on the Kentucky side,” Schwab said.