Council exploring landing fee options

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 5:45pm

The New Shoreham Town Council is analyzing its landing fee collections from transient boaters who dock at Old Harbor and New Harbor. The review includes looking at increasing the number of collection boxes, refurbishing those boxers for greater functionality,  and potentially charging landing fees for passengers arriving from cruise ships anchored offshore. 

In the town’s recommended fiscal year 2020 operating and capital budget, under other town fees and income, the town is budgeted to receive $180,000 in revenue from the collection of commercial landing fees, and $4,000 from private landing fees. Finance Director Amy Land told The Times that, “The $180,000 is remitted to the town by the ferry companies. The $4,000 includes landing fees collected via the collection boxes, mooring rental fees, and through Old Harbor dockage.” 

Harbormaster Steve Land told The Times that collection from the town’s boxes amounts to about $300 per year, while collections from mooring fees total about $4,000.

At the council’s March 20 meeting, Town Manager Ed Roberge discussed collecting landing fees from transient boaters only at private marinas, the condition of collection boxes, adding a box near the new dinghy dock, improving signage at the boxes, and if cruise ship passenger fees should be collected. Roberge said the item was continued from the council’s March 6 work session, and raised two questions: “How aggressively do we want to collect landing fees; and do we want to be aggressively collecting landing fees?”

Roberge asked if the council wanted to charge landing fees for passengers arriving via cruise ships. “Do we want to collect fees for that, and change the legislation to support collecting those fees?” Roberge echoed Councilor Chris Willi from the council’s March 6 work session, noting that Newport collects landing fees from cruise ship passengers.

“We’re not suggesting any changes, other than looking at the smaller cruise ships; something consistent with what we do with the other carriers,” Roberge who said he had consulted with the harbormaster regarding the program. Steve Land said a review of the town’s landing fee collection program was worth looking into.

Roberge said the town collects its “landing fees today under an agreement with Interstate Navigation; and under a co-operative agreement with the Montauk Ferry, as well as Cross Sound Ferry. We also collect landing fees when we collect fees on moorings.”

“We have collection boxes at the three major marinas in New Harbor,” Roberge told the council, referring to the Block Island Boat Basin, Champlin’s Marina and Payne’s Dock. “We collect landing fees in Old Harbor, as well. There are suggestions about whether to expand that, or not. We don’t collect fees, individually, from the larger marinas. And we don’t collect fees from anchorage. Whether it’s cumbersome or onerous; that’s just never been done.”

“There is a collection box at the Block Island Maritime Institute bathroom in New Harbor, as well,” said Land, who noted that the landing fee program was aimed at “not being aggressive to the transient boater coming into the marinas, and anchorage, versus the ferries, and stuff like that. Since it’s been in place that’s how it’s been treated. And that’s how I’ve treated it, non-aggressively.”

“So are we talking about contacting the (private) marinas” to collect landing fees on the island, asked Councilor Martha Ball.

Roberge said the town could start a dialogue with the private marinas about collecting landing fees from transient boaters. “I classify that under the aggressive collection of fees, which we haven’t done in the past,” he said. “We need to look at the condition of collection boxes, and signage, and maybe add a box by the new dinghy dock.” The town’s dinghy dock is located near Dead Eye Dick’s restaurant and BIMI in New Harbor.

Second Warden André Boudreau noted that people put trash in some of the collection boxes. Boudreau said he witnessed Kate McConville, the Harbors Department assistant, searching for money within the refuse in a collection box during the fall near the harbors’ office. “Kate looked like she was on an archeological dig,” he said, elciting laughter.

“I think the boxes need to be revitalized,” said Land. “Ed and I discussed how landing fees are collected in other communities,” he added, noting that he’s journeyed to “hundreds of harbors” and has “never seen a collection box where you dump 50 cents into it.”

Land said he thought the collection of landing fees from cruise ships was a non-starter. He said cruise ship captains don’t feel comfortable navigating through the Coast Guard Channel into New Harbor, nor anchoring in the rough seas off the island’s coast. “It’s not flat calm,” he said.

In response, First Warden Ken Lacoste said, “The bottom line is: you’re saying it could be much ado about nothing, but we should be prepared just in case.”

“It’s almost a non-event” regarding the cruise ships that come to Block Island, said Land. He noted that further research is needed before charging landing fees for cruise ship passengers.

As for the collection boxes, Lacoste said the boxes could have simply stated informational signage near them. He also said the discussion would continue, and Roberge would continue reviewing the town’s collection practices.

The next Town Council meeting is Monday, April 1 at 7 p.m.