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Date of Issue: May 26, 2010

Commission pulls mooring field grant

The area south of the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach — as seen from on high — may become an official mooring field with the help of a state recreational boating grant. But city commissioners have questions about the financial feasibility of the field and the risk associated with accepting the grant. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

Bradenton Beach commissioners put the brakes on executing a contract for a $165,000 grant from the state to establish an official mooring field south of the Historic Bridge Street Pier.

Commissioners also agreed last week that they want an advisory committee revived to review the financial feasibility of a managed mooring field at the popular anchorage site.

The officeholders disagreed about how soon that might happen — this summer or a over the next six months.

The commission voted in mid-April, pending legal review, to send a signed contract for the grant to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

However, at their May 20 regular meeting, Commissioners Bob Bartelt and Janie Robertson and Mayor Michael Pierce said they had expected the contract to come back to them before it was submitted to the state.

“I wanted legal to read the fine print and tell me what was going on,” Robertson said. “I didn’t expect that to be sent off and not come back to us.”

“I was shocked when I found out that this had already been executed,” Bartelt said.

Commissioners Bob Connors and Gay Breuler said they expected the contract to be sent on.

“I thought it was a no-brainer,” Breuler said, referring to the acceptance of the $165,000 grant.

The commission, by consensus, indicated they wanted city attorney Ricinda Perry to check on whether the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had approved the contract, because the city still has questions.

“I’ve got a feeling we are going to have to wait until next year’s cycle,” Bartelt said, referring to FWC’s process.


Financial feasibility

In addition to city project/program manager Lisa Marie Phillips securing the mooring field grant, the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency already has committed $35,000 toward establishing the managed mooring field.

But some commissioners expressed concern last week about whether a mooring field is a financially viable enterprise and they questioned why a mooring field budget has not been detailed.

Bartelt requested a workshop May 18 that commissioners, the mayor, Phillips and eight members of the public attended.

“What happens if the mooring field is a not a success?” Bartelt asked, opening the meeting and stating his overriding concern that the operation of a mooring field might cost the city money.

“Either the city loses at the worst or we break even,” he said.

The commissioner supplied a worksheet showing the annual operational cost of a mooring field at $60,000 and the city losing money unless at least 18 of 27 moorings were occupied year-round.

“As a commissioner, along with my fellow commissioners, we are responsible for the financial well-being of our city,” Bartelt said, reading from a prepared statement. “To this end I have made inquiries about other mooring fields in our locale for about a year. I have not received enough information to make an informed decision.”

He also said he was concerned that the city, if it accepted the grant, might have to reimburse the state $165,000 if it ceased to operate the mooring field.

“I was told by some people that if the mooring field is not a success or is discontinued, the city of Bradenton Beach would be responsible to return the (grant), in addition to being out our initial $35,000,” Bartelt said. “I was told by another that this was not the case. In other words, there is a lot of either conflicting or missing financial information to make an informed decision as to whether or how to move forward with this project.”

Robertson agreed that commissioners must be cautious about expenses, but, she said, even without an official mooring field, the city has expenses at the site.

“If we are going to protect our waterfront out here, that is going to cost the city money,” she said. “We have to do something, which means the city has got to spend some money.”

Inviting public comment at the May 18 meeting, commissioners heard from several boating enthusiasts who shared concerns about the cost of a mooring field, but who also emphasized that the city must protect and maintain its waterfront.

Boater Jonathon Cook, referring to a mooring field in the city of Sarasota as a “debacle,” said, “They don’t expect the field to make money or even break even.… And if they walk away now, they are on the hook for close to $1 million.”

Cook said he the annual operation of a Bradenton Beach mooring field would cost a lot more than $60,000.

William Shearon, a member of the mooring field committee, agreed. Buying a mooring field is like buying a boat, he said. The big cost is in operations and maintenance.

“We ought to have the best possible estimate of where it stands financially,” said Rick Curd, another member of the mooring field committee.

But, Curd added, the city “needs to look at intangibles, too.”

What might be the impact of not creating a managed mooring field on the environment and for local businesses? he asked.

Bradenton Beach resident and boater Roger Allen defended the mooring field project, emphasizing that its purpose is to guarantee public access to Florida waters and waterfronts.

“And there is a need in the state of Florida for that,” he said.

Allen also said that if the city ceased to operate a managed mooring field, anchorage would still be allowed and thus, the state would not demand reimbursement of its recreational boating grant.

“You do a managed anchorage, you are safe,” he said. “You don’t have a problem with that.… You don’t have to pay that money back.”

Boater Greta Dabringhaus added that the city should not have any trouble maintaining a full mooring field.

Dabringhaus, pointing to other managed mooring fields, said they often are at capacity, have led to a reduction in derelict vessels and protected seabeds.

Dabringhaus specifically praised the Sailing Squadron mooring field in Sarasota.

“They did it right,” Shearon acknowledged.

At several points during the May 18 meeting, questions were raised about whether Scheda Ecological, the consulting firm hired by the city under another grant for the master recreational boating plan, should have completed a feasibility study for the field.

However, such a study was not part of the contract with Scheda, which focuses on environmental issues.

Phillips, after the meeting, said she had expected the next step for the city to be the issuance of a request for proposals to establish and operate the mooring field.

The RFP, she said, would have solicited budgetary details, including considerations of whether the city should employ a harbor master or contract with a company to manage the mooring field.

At the conclusion of the May 18 meeting, commissioners agreed that the mooring field committee should reconvene, elect a chairman and submit a report on the revenue and expenses projected for the mooring field.

“I’d like it ASAP,” Robertson said.

The commission reaffirmed its interest in resurrecting the mooring field at its meeting May 20.