Attendees at Wednesday evening’s Department of Planning and Natural Resources mooring meeting at the Cyril E. King airport blamed the department for creating a “hostile” environment with fee increases of up to 700 percent.
More than 75 people including boaters, business owners and concerned residents offered DPNR feedback about the proposed increases. Attendees said that because of the economy, increases will only hurt the territory as boaters will not be able to pay and will bring their business elsewhere.
“This is the beginning of a process that includes other agencies,” DPNR Commissioner Alicia Barnes asserted, referring to the increase as their obligation. “One thing is for sure; fees will be increased.”
Barnes said some increases will be implemented in 2013 and will provide the funds for further changes in 2014.
Attendees agreed that, because fees have not been evaluated since 1986, it was a good idea. However, they worried that DPNR is considering the benefits of increased revenue, but not the obstacles boaters will endure.
St. Thomas Yacht Club Commodore Boyd Sprehn shared concerns that the territory will lose boats, visitors and residents if DPNR increases fees as drastically as they’re proposing. He gave examples of other places that have suffered losses up to 90 percent after extreme fee increases.
Resident Harry Clinton testified that he didn’t feel DPNR considered the fact that residents buy and maintain their moorings.
“I strongly suggest that you give very serious consideration about whether or not these fees are realistic to today’s economy,” Clinton said to applause.
Attendees were also concerned that representatives compared proposed costs to other places, such as Florida, instead of ensuring that the increases are right for the territory. According to attendees, Florida offers amenities and maintenance that the territory does not.
Resident Maurice Kurg said the island is not boater-friendly like some other places. People do not want to dock in the territory for long, he said, and increased fees will make it that much harder to attract boaters.
“All I’ve watched for the last 25 years is a catastrophic demise in the Virgin Islands marine industry,” Kurg said.
Enforcement of fees was also a big concern since those at the meeting felt like they were being penalized for being responsible.
Another resident, Peter Baker, worried about how increases will indirectly affect the environment, noting that people used to tie boats to mangrove trees during hurricanes. He shared his concern that it might be the case again if boaters suffer financially.
The actual proposed increases in fees can be found in the previous Source story linked at the bottom of the page.
According to Barnes, the meetings serve as an opportunity to begin dialogue on the matter and determine what’s fair and what works, and that increases are not just limited to mooring.
Anchoring fees will also be increased. Currently boaters get two weeks free then pay $2 a foot. Planning has proposed a short-term anchoring category of up to 60 days at $45 a month. For three to six months, boaters would get a seasonal anchoring/mooring permit for $40 a month.
There will be more meetings after the original proposal goes through more rounds of evaluations and revisions. The final proposed numbers will also have to go through offices such as the legislature before implementation.
Barnes encourages residents with concerns or questions to please contact her at [email protected].