BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, EDITOR
How will Boyne City’s $4.3 million marina expansion and improvement project be paid for and when will it begin?
The Boyne City Commission held a work session on April 24 to discuss just what to do with the next three phases of the project.
“If we could get $4.3 million, $2.1 (million) would come out of our pocket,” said Boyne City Mayor Tom Neidhamer. “We could get a loan for that over a 20-year payback. The rental fees would cover our mortgage payments, so to speak?”
The Waterways Commission requires a 50 percent local match in order to win a grant—hence the $2.1 million of Boyne City moneys.
Boyne City Harbormaster Barb Brooks, who presented the city commission with an overview of the marina’s history and proposed plans, said she believes such a payment plan could work.
“At some point, I think we need to decide: do the phases even work? Or, do we need to look at doing the entire project? Do we need to look at doing a couple phases at one time to get us where we need to be?” she said. “The current docks that are here are failing. They’re almost 40 years old—I can only put so many Band-Aids on. And, how much do you want to fix them if at some point we’re looking at (replacement?)”
Boyne City Commissioner Hugh Conklin asked Brooks about the order of operation.
“Why don’t we rebuild first?” he said. “How can we be thinking about expanding if what we’ve got currently is on its last leg?”
Brooks said it could be rebuilt but it would provide no new revenue source.
Boyne City Commissioner Dean Solomon asked Brooks how much of the $4.3 million she planned to fund with revenue from the marina.
“The only way that it can pay for itself and be done in a timely manner is if there’s some type of loan,” Brooks said…. “So, out of the marina’s fund balance, with our current revenue stream, (it) would probably not ever be able to put more than $30,000 each year into the fund balance.”
Brooks said it would take her 10 years just to replace the docks in question if she used only revenues.
According to Brooks, a mix of the community, Boyne City staff and the Boyne City Commission have been discussing marina improvements and expansion for at least 24 years.
“The plans have been a culmination of community input, work sessions, assistance from Abonmarche (the city’s marina engineering firm) back then who conducted a study in 2003, and a master plan in 2005,” said Brooks. “At the time of the marina master plan, there were about four different layouts … that the community discussed. There just never seemed to be a good consensus and, so, plans were tweaked, and different ideas were thrown out.”
The city was denied its first application through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) due to concerns over the size of the project and how far out into the water the expansion would go.
Fisheries officials were also concerned about the ability to fish and navigate the waters, and there were some concerns about the lack of planned dredging to deal with potential times of low water with the new marina.
Brooks said the city worked with the MDEQ to alter the plan until they accepted it.
The city was then granted a three-year permit with the potential for a two-year extension.
Boyne City’s MDEQ permit is set to expire at the end of 2018. The city’s construction permit with the US Army Corps of Engineers is also set to expire this year.
“The current project that we’re working on falls under this permit,” Brooks said. “We will have to apply for a new permit to do anything additional in the future.”
She added, “So, with knowing that, we’ve been tweaking the layout just a little bit. There’s been some talk about potential moorings in front of the
Open Space (475 North Lake St.) so we’ll look at that and decide if we want to incorporate that into our application.”
The current makeup of the marina includes a total of 44 slips; that doesn’t count a few overflow slips.
Twenty-four slips are rented on a seasonal basis. Twenty of the boat slips are used on a transient basis, which allows boaters to stay between one and fourteen nights.
Some of the floating docks have outlived or are close to having outlived their usefulness. Brooks said the time is nearing when it will cost more to maintain them than to purchase new structures.
Brooks said the boat launch doesn’t have enough parking and could use more launch lanes at times.
Brooks said, budget-wise, the marina has been in the black since around 2007 when she came aboard.
She said the city has been able to pay the marina’s costs and add to the fund balance.
“The big thing that I really want to get across today is talking about the economic impact of the marina,” Brooks said. “There’s been a lot of discussion over the years of ‘sure, go ahead and expand the marina as long as it’s not a burden to the taxpayers.’ And, I’ve heard that a lot.”
The marina also creates 10 to 12 temporary jobs throughout the summer.
“Your average boater will spend a minimum of $50 a day for each day that they are in a port or in a community,” Brooks said. “And that does not include their slip fee.”
Boyne City Manager Michael Cain said the city needs to build a plan using a model to determine how much money the city can apply for and how it can accumulate the funds needed to complete a project of this scope.
Abonmarche Engineer Dan Dombos said his people would look at how debt service and revenue generation can be handled in a feasible manner.
“There’s a couple things to consider: there’s a practical element of, we have to build some protection before we can do some expansion element; there’s also … an asset management mindset that, man, I’ve got to take care of what I got before I start creating more stuff to worry about,” Dombos said.
According to Dombos, work must begin before the permits expire to show the state there is momentum in the right direction.
Conklin said he has concerns with how the marina project may affect Veterans Park and the Open Space, and whether potential issues have been considered.
He also asked what happens if the state fails to renew the city’s marina construction permit.
Brooks said renewal is not automatic, but the state will take the city’s progress on the project into consideration.
Conklin asked if maybe the city should set a goal to help move the process along in a productive manner.
“I can really appreciate the frustration of trying to move something along and all you’re doing is pushing it uphill,” he said.
Brooks agreed, saying, “If, for whatever reasons, through these work sessions and committee meetings, you decide to put a hold on the expansion—we’re not going to go forward at this time—that’s fine. Then I can focus on what I need to do. But, this expansion has been out there since before me. I’ve been asked to pick up the ball and run with it … but I’m really not sure which direction I’m running.”
Conklin added, “I don’t think any of us are.”
Boyne City Commissioner Ron Grunch said his biggest concern is how much money would the city have to take out of its general fund to cover a shortfall until the new docks would begin generating the extra funding they are proposed to bring in.
Brooks said there is no guarantee the marina revenue will cover bond payments. But, she said there has long been a shortage of boat slips and told the commission they will have to decide whether to take this “fairly safe gamble.”
Cain said he envisioned executing the project in phases and going for a number of smaller bonds, a move which could help maximize grant moneys.
No decisions were made during the work session, and public input meetings will be held at future dates.