Facts on South Benson Marina

To the Editor:

As I read Humberto Juarez’s article about the April 23 public meeting regarding South Benson Marina, I realized that there is much context that the public needs to have in order to properly judge what is being proposed and the boaters’ reaction to that proposal. I have had a boat in the marina for 42 years and have attended nearly every meeting of the Marina Subcommittee of the Parks and Recreation Commission since it was formed in 2016. So, let’s start with some facts:

According to a profit and loss statement prepared by the Marina Subcommittee in April of 2018, the marina is projected to make a profit for FY 2019, after accounting for ALL expenses, of between $360,000 and $400,000. This profit is from a revenue from boaters for slip rentals of approximately $635,000 plus an additional $110,000 for various marina services such as ramp fees and winter boat storage. So, depending on how you do the math, somewhere between 50 — 60% of the money boaters pay goes to the Town and is not used for any marina operating or maintenance expense, or set aside in a “rainy day” fund for future significant marina expenses. I have heard people say “the town should not subsidize the boaters.” The exact opposite is happening - the boaters are subsidizing the non-boating population of Fairfield to the tune of $360,000 to $400,000 per year!

In February of 2017 the RTM appropriated $700,000 for much needed dredging of the Ash Creek channel to the marina. More than two years later, not only has no dredging been done, but the Town of Fairfield has not even gotten a permit to do the dredging. On an average low tide, the channel is about 3 feet deep. There are probably 100 — 150 boats in the marina whose draft is three feet or greater. The large sailboats often draw as much a five to six feet. So, depending on the boat, there is a range of two to six hours (one to three on either side of low tide) where these boats cannot enter or exit the marina. These are the boats representing the most significant investment for the owners, and the ones who pay the most for their slips in the marina. And they cannot get in or out of the marina 24/7. The evening of the 2019 Fairfield Fireworks, July 3, low tide is about 6:30 PM. We all hope that there are no accidents in the inadequate channel that night.

Many boaters at the April 23 meeting just asked the Marina Subcommittee to perform regular maintenance on the marina to prolong its life. There is not room here to go into detail about much that could be done. Most seriously, for many years the boaters have asked for replacement of the very unsafe metal hooks used to hold the roughly 400 medium and small boats to the docks. On several occasions’ boaters have fallen in to the water while trying to board their boats on these precarious hooks. And, of course, since there are no ladders on any of the docks, if they fall in they are dependent on other boaters to be there to, literally, pull them out of the water. While about three years ago the Marina Subcommittee designed better and much safer hooks (called “frog hooks”), and with a marina making six figure profits, still nothing has been done to address this safety issue that boaters have complained about for years.

Other boaters on April 23 said that while the marina is crowded, the problem is not serious enough to warrant spending $7 — 9 million on the proposed revamp of the marina. Furthermore, we learned that not only will it cost $7 — 9 million, but with this plan the marina boat population will be reduced by about 100 boats, from about 600 down to about 500 boats. Finally, we learned that the proposal is to replace the current aluminum docks with wooden docks, which have not been used in marinas for years. Admittedly, this marina in many ways does not confirm with the national standards for marina design. But I did not hear any boaters say that spending this much money to address these deficiencies makes sense. If regulations are promulgated requiring such changes, then that would be a different story.

I attended the April 23 meeting and I did not think there was any doubt that the overwhelming sentiment was against the so-called “Option 11” proposal. This became especially true when the boaters learned that Option 11 was to replace the current marina with wooden docks and pilings. Mr. Juarez started his article with the expression “build it and they will come, rebuild or renovate it and they will come, too.” From what I heard I think the more accurate statement is “build Option 11 and they will LEAVE.”

Mike Herrington