Marina pump-out fees being explored

By Harbors Committee and Town Council
Thu, 03/07/2019 - 6:30pm
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The New Shoreham Town Council and the Harbors Committee are trying to determine the best way to have the island’s marinas pay for their share of pump-out costs, which is about $20,000 a year.

The town has been providing complimentary pump-out service at marinas in Old and New Harbor since 1993 as part of the island’s no discharge program.

The Harbors Committee says its recommendation is based on a review performed by the New Shoreham Finance Department, which noted that the annual cost of the pump-out program is $52,189. According to the committee, the marinas account for $20,000 of that amount, or approximately 40 percent of the total discharge volume collected by the town’s pump-out boats.

The Town Council discussed the topic with some members of the Harbors Committee at its Feb. 27 meeting. The committee recommended that private marinas be charged a tier-based fee on flow quantity to cover sewage taken by the town’s pump-out vessels during the summer season.

The committee sent a letter to marina owners on Jan. 30 informing them of the proposal and detailing what the fee structure might look like. The committee recommended the following fees: Block Island Boat Basin ($5,000), Champlins ($5,000), Payne’s Dock ($5,000), Ballard’s, Old Harbor ($1,000), Block Island Marine ($1,000), Block Island Maritime Institute ($1,000), Fort Island ($1,000), and the Hog Pen ($1,000).

The council received opposition letters from Ken and Marlee Lacoste (Harbor Road Yacht Basin/Hog Pen), and Carole Payne (Fort Island Docks). Lacoste recused as First Warden at the meeting, since he is a marina owner.

Town Manager Ed Roberge sent a report to the council on Feb. 20 noting that the Department of Environmental Management requires that “all marinas have active pump-out systems. The Town of New Shoreham has provided pump-out services since the beginning of the no discharge program in recognition of the importance of maintaining the quality and beauty of our natural resources.” 

During the discussion at the council meeting, Harbors Committee member Carl Kaufmann said the recommendation would be for marinas that only have boats using the service. He said the letter the Harbors Committee sent out to the marinas was to solicit feedback. 

“We’re not asking the council to approve those numbers,” said Kaufmann. “We’re talking about a user-pay service, and if they are not using the service we would not expect them to pay anything at all.” Kaufmann said the marinas have the option of using the service, but have been accounting for about 40 percent of the pump-out offload. 

“The recommendation is that when there are substantial uses of the pump-out service by marinas that have a large number of boats using the service, they would be charged a proportional fee for access to the town’s sewer system,” said Kaufmann. “We’re doing nothing here that impacts in any way the overall plan of having a pump-out service for visiting boats that come to Block Island. We are supportive of these visitors not having to pay for the service.”

Kaufmann said the current program “has worked marvelously” in cleaning up the Great Salt Pond. “Compliance in our harbor, with the pump-out service available, has cleaned up the harbor tremendously. It’s one of the cleanest harbors in New England. We’ve been monitoring it for more than 10 years.The objective with this is to continue to keep the harbors clean.”

Councilor Sven Risom asked two questions: “Do the marinas have their own pump-out equipment on their docks, and are they using them? If they’re not using them then they’re getting a little bit of a free ride.”

“They are getting a free ride; they do not use” their own pump-out equipment, said Harbors Committee member Erik Elwell. “The taxpayers are paying for the bill for a private enterprise for their sewage.”

“Is there any charge to a boat using the service at a marina?” asked Risom.

“No,” said Elwell. 

“Pump-out boats do not charge these guys,” said Kaufmann.

There was a back and forth between the committee and the council regarding how the marinas would be charged, but a determination was not formalized. The council decided to continue the discussion at a future meeting.

“I agree with the concept, but I don’t think it’s ready,” said Second Warden André Boudreau, who along with Councilors Martha Ball and Sven Risom gave the committee the green light to explore a solution. 

After the meeting, Kaufmann told The Times that, “The Town Council did not take a formal vote on the committee's request, but they gave us a green light to come up with specific details and a fee structure for marinas to pay when the town's pump-out boats remove sewage from boats berthed at those marinas.”

“The marina operators, not the individual boat owners, would be charged the fee based on the amount of sewage” offloaded onto the pump-out boat, said Kaufmann. “It was emphasized that such charges would apply only to waste removed by the town’s pump-out boats. If marinas used their own pump-out equipment to serve their boats in their slips, and do not involve the Harbors Department service, then the fee would not apply.”

Kaufmann said, “The council asked the Harbors Committee to respond with a specific plan by April.”