A representative from one company renting a boat slip at the Fairhope Municipal Harbor at Fly Creek said his yearly rental fee will jump approximately 521 percent after the Fairhope City Council approved a new set of rules and fees at the harbor during its Aug. 24 meeting.
In the previous harbor regulations, work boats, commercial fishing boats or charter boats were classified together. The new regulations include a reclassification of commercial fishing vessels to include boats designed for the sole purpose of harvesting fish, shrimp and crabs. Recreational vehicles do not fit the new guidelines, which will cost commercial fishing vessels $600 per year in rent.
All other vessels, including recreational and work vessels, will be charged at a rate of $5 per linear foot of length per month if paid in full for the year, or $6 per linear foot of length per month if paid quarterly.
Seaport Marine Project Manager Dale Croy told the council ahead of its approving vote that his company’s yearly fees to use the harbor would jump from $840 per year for two boats to around $4,500 per year with the new regulations. At the new rate, a 20-foot long vessel will cost $1,200 per year if paid in full or $1,440 per year if paid quarterly. Seaport Marine’s two boats, which were previously classified as commercial vessels, will see a considerable jump in yearly rent.
Croy said since 2002 Seaport Marine has used two boats based in the marina to train U.S. Coast Guard helicopter student pilots five days per week. He said students are taught rescue voice training, homeland security and other relevant exercises in Mobile Bay.
“It is kind of a shock, to be honest with you,” Croy said about the rate increase. “If you go from what we were paying for both of our boats, to that kind of an increase, it is huge.
“I just ask the council to consider the service we provide and the time we’ve been there,” he continued. “I’ve done some homework to see what other marinas charge per boat, and I would just ask the council to consider how big that jump is, from $420 per boat to $5 per foot per boat, per month.”
Administrative Superintendent James Gillespie said the reclassification will affect just five or six leases, including the one currently occupied by Seaport Marine.
Council President Jack Burrell said Seaport Marine and the other reclassified leases do not fit the new definition of a commercial fishing vessel. According to Burrell, $5 per linear foot is less than other marinas in the area, citing a $10 per foot rate at Dog River and $16 per foot and higher for slips in Orange Beach.
“If you allow one for-profit business to operate at the current rate of a commercial fishing vessel, you would have to allow other business entities to operate at the same rate,” Burrell said. “I do sympathize that it is a 500 percent rate increase, I do. I know Mr. Croy has about 70 feet of working vessel there for about $350 a month. While that’s a big increase, I hate to say it but it is a huge discount compared to what is offered anywhere that I know of in Baldwin County.”
Kevin Boone, the City Council’s liaison to the Harbor Board, said the new regulations are intended to bring the city’s fees in line with other similarly sized marinas.
“We are trying to bring in a more standard configuration of the fees we’ve charged at the harbor that we haven’t done in a long, long time,” Boone said. “I think this is a more than fair price tag on these rates.”
Burrell said the new fees are not a “money grab” by the city, but additional revenues will be used to spend on improvements at the harbor.
“We don’t want someone to take a center console vessel down there, throw a crab trap on the back and say it is a commercial fishing vessel,” he said.
Harbor Board Chairman Bob Riggs said the new definition of a commercial fishing vessel is a “good step forward.” He said the $5-per-foot rate for slip rental is fair, considering the lessees have access to free electricity and a boatyard, a travel slip, fuel and other amenities. The increased revenue will also benefit the slips the lessees use.
The Harbor Board priced slip rentals at marinas in Panama City, Florida, and elsewhere, where commercial fishing vessels share space with recreational vessels, finding they were more expensive than Fairhope’s new fees.
“It is very fair and extremely reasonable,” Riggs said. “We are treating both classifications of vessels very fairly here.”
The Council stripped the new regulations of a rule requiring lessees to maintain liability insurance, a move the city feared would drive away some who had used the marina without insurance for, in some cases, 60 years. At the work session before the Council meeting on Monday, a handful of boat owners warned the City Council of a “mass evacuation” of lessees if the insurance requirement was kept in the new regulations.
The city will keep the insurance requirement out of the marina regulations for now, but warned the rule could be added at a later date. Gillespie said while the insurance requirement has been in the Harbor Board rules before, it had not been strictly enforced. Ultimately, the city decided it is better to not have an insurance requirement than to have a requirement that isn’t enforced.
The regulations do include a “hold harmless” clause that immunizes the city against liabilities, claims, demands, damages, fines or any other issues that may arise related to the slip lease. Gambling and alcoholic beverages are prohibited on city property, as is living aboard a vessel moored at the Fly Creek Harbor.
Fairhope’s Harbor Board is an advisory committee charged with the maintenance, management and operation of the Municipal Harbor at Fly Creek.