Five years after the Office of the Public Auditor released its finding that the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ lack of enforcement made it easy for vessels to illegally berth at the Outer Cove Marina, DLNR is finally taking action.
By the end of January, boats without power and engines will be removed, and then next month, by Feb. 27, all boats without berthing permit will also be removed.
Based on the regulations, boat owners would have to pay a monthly Vessels Berthing Fee that range from $5 to $20 per foot, depending on the length of the boat; a $4 per passenger boarding fee; and a security deposit the cost of a three-month berthing fee.
Amidst complaints from boat owners, one thing is certain—that the DLNR is finally acting on longstanding concern.
DLNR Secretary Anthony Benavente made it clear in an earlier interview that the department is just complying with the regulations that have been in place since 1999, as they are obligated to do so.
In its 2015 performance audit on the Outer Cove Marina, OPA found that the “DLNR has made no collection and has not taken any legal action against individuals and business owners who do not have an approved lease but continue to utilize the Outer Cove.”
OPA added that the DLNR has not conducted any enforcement activities, and neither did they issue any citation to those illegally berthing and operating at the cove.
In May 2015, OPA was given an account receivable listing of lessees, with the vessel’s name, and unpaid balances; and upon a week of observation, identified nine vessels actively loading and offloading passengers and/or have remain parked at Outer Cove.
Per DLNR’s records in 2015, a total of $815,000 stood to be collected from 26 individuals and businesses, the amount of which OPA was unable to verify due to poor “dock usage” documentation. Based on the nine vessels OPA saw, the arrears of these vessels would have amounted to $576,000.
According to the OPA report, “the lack of enforcement on DLNR’s part results in significant forgone revenues and creates an unfair business advantage for these businesses.”
OPA recommended that “DLNR seek the assistance of the OAG for legal advice and take appropriate action that will ultimately lead to impoundment or removal of vessels if a lease is not approved and the appropriate payments have not been made.”
Rectifying the issues
In the report on the DLNR’s implementation of the audit recommendation released last week, Jan. 15, OPA deems the issue unresolved, and will conduct a follow-up in June 2020.
As a response, the DLNR stated that they have been “working with the OAG to resolve the 2015 findings by OPA of the lack of enforcement, which has allowed for vessels to berth illegally at OCM.”
Further, the report also talked about DLNR’s commitment to notify boat owners without power (or motor) and those who do not comply with the payment of berthing permits on the removal of the vessels.
“OPA has reviewed documentation from DLNR seeking the advice from the Office of the Attorney General in regards to the loading and unloading of passengers as well as the collection of berthing fees but lacks legal advice sought for the impoundment or removal of vessels if a lease is not approved and the appropriate payments have not been made,” the report read.
OPA also revealed that only six of the 25 vessels with waiver forms berthing at the Outer Cove have payment information documentation. OPA, however, commended DLNR in its recent notice to owners regarding the removal of vessels without power.
DLNR issued the notice of eviction on boats that are not paying fees this month.