CHESTERTOWN - More moorings off private waterfront aren't popular, according to testimony Tuesday night.
At the first Kent County Commissioners' meeting after time off for the holidays, a public hearing on Bill 4-2012 drew a full house.
It would amend the local law chapter, Boats and Boating, to allow private landowners to lease moorings to nearby marinas. It also would limit a guest to 24 hours at the transient slips in Betterton.
Commissioners Ron Fithian, William Pickrum and Billy Short heard from the sponsor, Herschel Claggett, and 14 people who testified. Comments in writing can be dropped off at the county commissioners' office by noon tomorrow, Jan. 11, or by email to kentcounty[AT]kentgov.org.
Claggett said the proposal came about because marina owner Pepper Gilbert of The Wharf at Handy's Point “wants to rent some of my waterspace.” Claggett owns a property zoned Agricultural across Worton Creek from the marina. He said there were 55 moorings off his shoreline “in the past.”
“There's been opposition, mostly from people with no equity interest in it,” he said, and “an awful lot of innuendoes floating around.”
Claggett said the comprehensive plan calls for the county to be a boating center, and “this is a reasonable way for some marinas to expand without spending a fortune on docks ... [Gilbert's] marina is full.” Since some marinas elsewhere in the county have grandfathered moorings, “it evens the playing field for all marinas in the county,” he said.
Marty Holden, public works division chief, noted that Public Works would limit the transient docking time, and he said the Public Landings Board reached a negative conclusion on any changes to the mooring ordinance Dec. 13 at its public hearing.
Not one of the 14 who testified agreed with Claggett.
Pat Diver presented a petition with 37 names, including watermen, waterfront property owners and boaters. She said the objections were that there is no cap on the number of moorings; a distance of 2,500 feet from the marina is too far; and “adjoining” is not limited to property that shares a property line on land with a marina.
John Bedell said there are three marinas on Worton Creek, and most of the county's marinas have unleased slips.
“It's taking money out of their pockets to expand one marina,” he said, and potentially could result in 16 miles of new moorings around the county. Abandoned boats would become the responsibility of local government.
“Mr. Claggett fought a very expensive war [in a lawsuit about 10 years ago] to remove moorings for the good of Kent County, now he wants to add moorings for the good of Kent County.”
Others testified that the waters around the county belong to the citizens of the state, not any one individual. “This would give effective ownership to a few people for their gain,” said marina owner John Patnovic.
“Putting the moorings across the water – our water – makes no sense,” said Marcy Brown.
Several other marina owners testified against the idea, including John Campbell of North Point Marina, and Ray Clark of Green Point Landing Marina. “We're about two-thirds full, there's no need for more moorings.” Of the 32 they have, 20 are leased.
Jeremy Gioffre, employed at Worton Creek Marina, testified that moorings would cost other marinas storage fees they presently collect.
He was one of several people who said Worton and Fairlee creeks are congested and difficult to maneuver in, and extra moorings would be a problem.
The Fairlee Creek Homeowners' Association was represented by William Herb. He said the three objections are water quality issues, “whether intentional or not;” extra congestion in a place where there is really no marked channel; and that unattended boats up to half a mile from a marina could be vandalized or sink. He said Fairlee Creek does not flush well, and the area already has sewage sludge applied to a nearby farm.
Herb said he would comment as a private citizen, too. “A persuasive case has not been made” that mooring leases are needed, and “it seems to have the intent of enriching a single individual.”
Also, dozens of moorings have “a negative impact on other recreational users” who come to the creek to raft up, and on watermen.
John LeClair, service manager at Worton Creek Marina, said, “Ten years ago [Claggett] claimed moorings destroyed his view, people were throwing trash overboard, were having loud parties, and pumping out holding tanks. Why the change of heart? Money.
“The economic development argument is a farce,” he said.
In addition, while boats at slips are insured for cleanup if they sink, boats on moorings would not necessarily be insured or carefully watched.
Several people testified that a 24-hour limit on guests at the Betterton county wharf makes little sense if the goal is to have people visit for a long weekend.
Also at the meeting, a hearing on Bill 5-2012, which eliminates the Human Relations Commission, drew no public comments.