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Boaters "self-interested" group (continued)

Rosa White labelled the protesters a “self-interested group that has boats.”

White was among four councillors and Mayor Wayne Hurst who voted in mid-October for the sale, which has eight months to close.

“If they don’t have boats their children have boats,” she said. “And they’re very well organized. And they’re going to keep up the pressure.”

The Ranta Marina Boaters Association has spearheaded opposition to the $584,000 sale, packing town council meetings. There have also been angry denunciations of council in letters to the editor of town newspapers. There has been a petition with more than 700 names and a lawn sign campaign with the slogan Save Ranta Marina.

Two councillors –Rick Fryer and Bob Pillon – voted against the sale.

White said the opposition won’t force her to reverse her decision. “What’s there to cave?” she asked. The sale has been “already agreed to.”

White said that if the sale doesn’t close, “there’s options then we can look at. But that’s something for council to decide in the future if the deal doesn’t come through.”

Another councillor who voted for the sale, deputy mayor Robert Bailey, said the decision to offload the property at River Canard – the town’s northern border – came down to a couple of issues – who benefits from the marina use, and whether taxpayers will be better off.

“I took the position that boating is not one of the core services that the town should be funding,” he said.

Critics have said funding the marina is no different from other town recreation services, such as the arena, or soccer fields, and that the town loses money on other recreation services.

But Bailey suggested this is apples and oranges.

“The argument I have with boaters – it’s a different tier of recreation,” he said. He compared boats to snowmobiles or off-road vehicles, all motorized sports. “And I fail to see how those activities promote physical fitness.”

Bailey conceded that boating promotes “fishing and leisure” activities. “These are all good. But it’s not on the same level” as baseball or skating which “serve residents from age five to 70.”

Bailey also said there are other marinas along the Detroit River that provide alternatives for the boaters. In fact, he said, fees at Ranta were more expensive than at private marinas so they wouldn’t be seen as unfair competition. “We purposely try to keep our fees higher than the private operator.”

Over the past year 72 of Ranta’s 104 boat wells were rented, an increase from a few years ago when it was 56. But Bailey said boat usage has “declined since 9/11” including as a result of recent increases in gas prices.

The boaters association has turned over revenue to the town in the last couple of years of approximately $10,000 each year. But Bailey said this is not enough to keep up with costs.

“In reality the town is still paying expenses on the marina, such as insurance, putting in the buoys, operation and maintenance” – about $30,000 a year.

Critics argue the town is selling at a bargain price a property that was developed with public money. The federal government provided $1 million to the marina in 1984. There was also funding provided to replace a dock that was originally poorly designed.

Bailey said selling the property will help alleviate that deficit. The town would also earn property taxes from any development.

“It has the least impact for the property tax rate. The town has not placed that debt on the general tax rate.”

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Critics have also said the public boat launch – different from long term rentals – will be eliminated.

Councillor Fryer, who voted against the sale, said the conditional sale does not protect the launch. He said unless the town came to an agreement with the developers the new owner,”could just close the marina off to the public.”

The developer apparently will make some wells available for long term lease.

Fryer said the next closest public boat launches are in LaSalle at Gil Maure Park and in Colchester.

“I would hate to see this leave the town’s hands but right now I’m in the minority.”

Councillor Pillon, who also voted against the sale, said the sale contradicts Amherstburg’s efforts to attract tourism.

“Being a river town, and we advertise ourselves as a tourist town,” this is the last public boat launch, he said. “That’s my big concern.”

Pillon said a public launch in downtown Amherstburg was closed several years ago. That was disappointing but “well, we had Ranta.” Now, he says, “where are people going to go to launch a boat?”

He blamed the town for not setting aside money to pay down $600,000 in dredging costs dating from 2002. “That’s been hanging over our heads.”

Pillon said the marina is no different from other recreation services. “We supply the marina, we supply the water park, we supply the soccer fields. And somehow council was of the opinion that the marina is not a core service. That’s where the problems started, I guess.”

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