Dredge We Must!

Westporters are used to paying taxes for services we may never use.

Single folks and childless couples pony up for education. Country club members subsidize Longshore. We all chip in for the fire department, even though most of us (thankfully) never call them.

Yet a recent proposal has called into question an intriguing question: Who should pay to dredge the Ned Dimes Marina?

No one denies it’s needed (it was last dredged in 1993). But the cost is $1.2 million.

The Ned Dimes Marina.

The Ned Dimes Marina.

The Board of Finance thinks boat owners with slips in the marina — that’s the one at Compo Beach — should cover the entire bill. The RTM Finance Committee agrees.

But another option on the table is an 80-20 split between boat owners and the town, respectively. The RTM will discuss the matter at their January 10 meeting.

What do you think? Is this a project that — while it does not benefit everyone — the town should fully cover? Are there intangible benefits that non-boat owners receive from a dredged channel? Is this one of many uses for tax money that we should not even quibble about? Does it open the door to a discussion of other types of funding, for other “town projects”?

Click “Comments” below. And be sure to note whether you’re a boat owner or not.

And if so, where you keep it!

57 responses to “Dredge We Must!

  1. We all should pay for it because it is one of the amenities that make the town what it is and why folks want to come here…all of which benefit every person who choses to live here.

  2. Dredging used to be “maintenance “.
    Westport dredged the Saugatuck Rivet to keep it navagable…as well as the marina area. Westport is a “water accessable” town.
    Was not Saugatuck Shores built on that dredged fill?
    When did we lose our way?
    Not now a boat owner.. Alas .. We did have lots of good water years in our special town.

  3. Lawrence Zlatkin

    There are a number of reasons why the town should support the dredging project, which has not been undertaken for over 20 years, leaving a major public waterway to Compo silted and inaccessible to many boaters.

    First, as Dan Katz observes above, Compo Marina is a major public amenity that helps preserve the unique attraction of Westport to existing and potential home owners. Many of us enjoy the unique advantages of the marina facility, and the waiting list for docking space attests to its attraction to town residents.

    Second, the dredging project is an important and urgent proposal to keep a public waterway clear for the Town’s obligation to maintain a marine police and emergency force. This is no different than keeping an important roadway free and clear for emergency and first reponder response within the Town’s boundaries.

    Third, we sell surplus and transient docking space to non-residents for a fee, and we cannot offer this space if it is inaccessible.

    Compo marina currently is paid for entirely by fees from marina boat users, and then some, These fees now generate a surplus for the Town. It is important for the Town to keep this space usable and in prime condition, similar to other Town facilities. The dredging proposal is an important part of the Town’s infrastructure which we all need to support.

    I would note that I am a member of the Town’s Boating Advisory Committee and a slip user at Compo, I am more than happy to respond to inquiries regarding this or any other Town boating question, as is any member of our Commitee and our Chairman, Bill Kiedaisch.

    Respectfully,

    Lawrence Zlatkin

  4. Very well said. Thanks Lawrence.

  5. The town should increase the boat slip fees to reimburse ourselves for the cost of dredging along with the related finance costs.
    The reimbursement would be spread over many years which will mitigate the yearly increase.
    I suspect The boat slip users will still be paying WELL below market for their slip. This should not even be subject to debate.

    • well said Alan on deaf ears

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      I believe Lawrence noted above that the slip revenues are already providing a surplus for the town. I’m not sure that the town wants to get into the habit of charging “market rate” for the services provided. If we follow this line of thought to the logical conclusion, we could see the RR Parking lot fees jump dramatically, we could see the beach pass fees jump by several hundred dollars, we could see the Longshore fees all increase substantially, we could see the Staples pool passes increase dramatically, we could the Parks and Rec program fees easily quadruple (or more,) etc…

      We should expect that for public services being provided, the fees charged roughly match the cost to provide and administer, with some small buffers built in. “Market Rate” is a slippery slope.

  6. This is an easy one. Make the slip owners pay. The town should be responsible for costs that benefit all of the community or a large share of it. The marina isn’t one of those. Slip owners pay for the privilege of docking their boats and should be responsible for what is basic maintenance. It’s a shame this wasnt being attended to by the town, but hard to see why that’s a burden that should be borne by all citizens.

  7. Dan-how many boat slips at the marina?

  8. Yes. The Marina should be dredged and paid for by the town. But, how many years has it been since the Saugatuck River was dredged? This should also be put on the 2017 agenda.

  9. Dan –

    I believe all capital improvements to the Longshore Golf Course are 100% funded through increased permit and greens fees paid by the golfers. The policy when I was on the Golf Advisory Committee was that town recreational activities should be “revenue neutral” – i.e. that the users should pay for all capital improvements and operating costs. It would appear this policy is still in effect based on the recent Finance Board approval of the upcoming bunker project which requires golfers to pay for all of it.

    If the town chooses to chip-in for the marina dredging project above and beyond what the boater’s fees will cover, then to be fair it should also cover part of Longshore’s capital improvement costs – which I think they should do.

    Per Mr. Katz’s comment, the marina like the Longshore Golf Course are part of what make Westport a special place to live.

    Kudos to the boaters for raising this issue with the RTM. Perhaps the Golf Advisory Committee could learn a thing or two from the Boating Advisory Committee.

  10. Arline Gertzoff

    How will the 20 percent for tax payers be allocated in this proposal?Proportional to ones current tax bill or a flat fee for all tax payers?How was it done the last time it was dredged?On the other hand people without a car or boat don’t pay any taxes but all pay towards education .

  11. The issue isn’t just how much mooring spaces should cost, but how many boat owners can benefit, because of long waiting lists. My family had a slip at Longshore back in the 60s and 70s, and when we kids went off to college, the boat was used less and less. But my dad was reluctant to give it up because the slip was so cheap, and the waiting list so long. (A bad storm forced his hand by damaging the boat beyond repair.) This is the unintended consequence of below-market rents, and it’s unfair to people who endure longer-than-necessary waiting lists.

  12. I am generally a fan of government paying for large-scale projects that benefit the community. But considering the woeful state of affairs on land — so few sidewalks and bike lanes, so many potholes, such high taxes — I don’t think it makes sense to invest in something so few people will enjoy.

  13. As the highest taxing and spending town in CT it would be another way to keep that leading position if we socialized what is effectively a select few’s access across the town budget. If access to slips was an annual lottery I could see it being more equitable. Of course the Town should bond the payment the cost amortized over 20 (?) years via user pays fees.

    A related question to ponder – very few boats need the marina to be dredged, if the reason is only the deeper draft boats who pays then?

  14. When tennis courts are built or rebuilt / added, do the fees charged for the use of Town tennis courts get directly increased to shoulder those costs? What about capital maintenance projects for the pools at Longshore – I don’t suppose those who use the pool get a special charge when they enter, in addition to flashing their handpass? This notion of making those who use the particular Town amenity pay for significant maintenance projects is foolish and leads us into dangerous territory; are we going to lay a special school tax on just those residents who have kids in Town schools?

  15. Better yet, direct your comments to your RTM representative or the full RTM at RTMMailingList@westportct.gov. Constituent input is very important to us because we represent YOU. Boat owners please also weigh in.

  16. Boat owners should bear brunt.

  17. David J. Loffredo

    I think the logic difference is that with the schools, or the public tennis courts, or the public golf course or the beach or the river – I can choose whether or not I want to take advantage of those amenities. I can’t do that when the Marina has a 20 year waiting list. It’s not really a public amenity, its a club where there is very little turnover. The members should pay, it’s a capital call. Perhaps some will choose not to and free up spots for others on the list.

    • Totally agree, David. Horse owners clean out their own stalls. Boat owners should clean out their own stalls.

    • You can definitely choose to avail yourself of the marina amenity – simply put your name on the waiting list for a particular length of boat, that’s how you, and any other resident, makes this choice – it’s quite fair, open and available to all. Current conditions suggest your name will come up within a few years if you are looking to accommodate a modest boat, such as 17 – 21 feet in length, and absolutely not 20 years.

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      Also, just to note, that many boaters who do NOT have a slip in the marina still stop at the gas docks to refill their tanks, purchase amenities, consult with the dockmaster and marine police, etc… This is about general access for a much larger population than just those who are docked at the marina or who are on the waitlist. (Also, the waitlist is NOT 20 years, even for a larger slip.)

  18. definitely the boat owners but in the end guess who’s going to foot the bill all us non boat owners

  19. The boat owners should pay and be part of a monthly fee so if they give up their slip they only pay for their time used.

    There are 597 slips at Ned Dimes and ER Strait Marina. If the dredging happens every 20 years, the cost asset to the boat owner would be $8.37 per month, using a 12 month calendar.

    Westport should charge the boat owners this reasonable amount going forward. The money collected must be paid is a ‘lock box’ for use to pay for dredging only. Parks and Rec should not be able to ‘raid’ the money collected for anything else.

    In regards to the current dredging, the town should do a calculation on how long someone has been using the docks and prorate a charge to each Dick user on a basis of past usage. The town could charge the $2,000 average per dock fee for the current dredging over a 4 year period to make the assessment a bit easier on the boat owner. This way to town helps the boat owner pay for the dredging, but at the end, Westport is not paying for a service that very few use or receive benefit.

    • Sorry for my spelling mistakes. Bad, very bad typing on my part.

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      So by this reasoning, should this fee only be allocated to the larger boats who need the deeper draft depths? Should the smaller boats, tenders, dinghies, and Jetskis have to subsidize the dredging for these deeper hulled vessels? Should there be a surcharge for those who are launching from the boat ramps at the marina but who are not actively docked there?

      This is a slippery slope that uncovers a situation not so simple. If we’re being fair, how fair do we want or need to be?

      • Elizabeth. Thanks for your response. Charging the boat owners a different fee based on size could make sense. It could make the charge more ‘fair’.

        I am concerned with the costs that senior citizens must pay in westport when they do not use the facility. Westport education funds were just cut and taxes will need to rise to cover the funding shortfall. Now Westport faces a $1.2 milllion new bill for the dredging. All this will add up to higher property taxes that hits our seniors the most.

        I would be interested in learning whether the golf course breaks even or makes money for Westport. That would give us all an example of pay for play and having those that use the facility cover the costs.

        The charge to boat owners to help pay for then dredging costs is not much compared to boat slip costs at non-town marinas.

  20. Are we talking about dredging just the channel or the whole marina? Everyone is more or less correct here – it’s an obligation of the town but boat owners can pay more. Westport moorings and slips were always a bargain. I had a boat at Compo for 50 years – a record I think. The last slip in 2004 was a little over $1000. For the same boat in Mystic a year later I paid about $1800.

  21. The marina is owned by the town, not the boat owners, to extent the asset is improved the improvement accrues to the town. The same can be said of Longshore,the public schools, and the senior center. However, each one of these facilities represents a wealth transfer from those who do not use them to those who do.

  22. Surprised no one has noticed – your picture shows the E.R.Strait Marina, not the Ned Dimes Marina. I’ve been assuming that we’re talking about dredging the marina at Compo but maybe it’s the one at Longshore. See how silly it is to give these places personal names? Compo Marina and Longshore Marina tells you where they are. Which one needs dredging?

    • Sorry, Peter – the photo does show the Ned Dimes Marina at Compo, which is the one that needs dredging. The photo is taken from the clubhouse — see the houses on Owenoke in the background? ER Strait Marina is at Longshore.

      • Yes, of course I recognize the marina – that’s where I had boats for 52 years. I just thought it was now E.R. Strait and not the other name. It’s still Compo Marina to me. And the Post Road bridge is still the Post Road Bridge, etc.

        • to me, it’s still Cedar Point Yacht Basin, with the Cedar Point Yacht Club, its great porch, and a walkway down to the dock, where there
          was an outboard motor powered launch to take you to your boat; when
          you were through boating, you blew a horn, and the launch came to bring
          you back to the dock. the whole shebang operated under the watchful
          eye of Captain Bob Tooker, Harbormaster. i believe Peter Barlow purchased Capt. Bob’s harbormaster boat when the good Captain
          retired.
          all those wooden piers and slips are for sissies !

  23. The 20 year wait list is only for large boats, which require large slips. Most slips are for boats in the 16-22′ range where the wait time is 4-5 years, which is shorter than train parking. So this really is an amenity available to all, albeit with a few season wait. And being a coastal community with beaches and access to the Sound is part of the intrinsic charm and attraction of Westport.

    And I believe Ned Dimes/Compo was dredged just a few years ago when they rebuilt the marina shoreline. I’m guessing this dredging is at ER Strait/Longshore.

  24. Is the $1.2 million separate from what the Army Corps of Engineers might provide?

    –Sandy See, former resident and sailor

  25. Kendall Gardiner

    Does anyone know the last time the Sherwood Island Mill Pond was dredged?
    I know it must be before 1979, and since then sand from Sherwood Island and silt has increased to the point that most of the pond is only a few feet deep.
    Who would the responsible part(ies) for dredging be?
    I’m actually unclear if the pond is part of Sherwood Island State Park, thus owned by the state, or owned by the town, and unclear if the Northrop family owns, rents or leases the two houses and multiple clam & oyster beds.
    I would genuinely appreciate clarification
    Thanks,
    Kendall

  26. Don L. Bergmann

    I watched the Bd. of Fin. meeting on this matter. I thought they approached the matter sensibly and made a correct decision. I will convey that to my RTM Representatives.
    Don Bergmann

  27. Maybe the town should get out of the business of operating a marina. An outside firm could be given the contract to operate and maintain the marina. Let that firm charge a closer to market clearing price, and share the revenues with the town.

  28. I think it’s important that we as taxpayers, boat owners, representatives, etc. look at how we have funded, and do fund other recreation facility improvements. A lot of great comments and points on this issue from everyone.

  29. The town invests substantial amounts of money in the Levitt Pavilion and the Library for the benefit of all including non-Westporters we must be willing to look at the larger picture rather than pointing fingers at users.

  30. Dick Lowenstein

    The Library is essentially a town agency and as for non-Westporters using our Library, Westporters use other towns’ libraries. It’s part of something called Connecticutcard, where all state library-card holders can use local libraries.

    As for the “surplus” referred to in several posts, would someone define what is meant by a surplus?

    • Lawrence Zlatkin

      By “surplus,” I meant that annual boater fees exceed the Town’s cost of boating operations, generating a surplus to the Town. This surplus reverts to the Town at the end of the budget year. So, the boaters are paying more than they use. The new dredging proposal will be absorbed by this surplus.

  31. The comments advocating the town funding this project are spot on! Do we all pay for the skate park. Of course we do! The golf course, Compo Beach, Tennis courts are all part of what makes the town a desirable place to live. Not everyone uses all these facilities but you can’t cherry pick what you want to pay for. town services are not ala carte.

  32. With all the great comments/suggestions/debate, one question remains in my mind. Where has the Town been all these years in reserving funds for this capital project that it obviously knew was coming? Similar to reserve funds for condos, etc., a portion of marina fees should be going into a reserve fund for such projects so as not to be such a ridiculous, short term impact to anyone, much less the taxpayers of Westport. Don’t tell me there’s no avenue to reserve funds and that’s why the “surplus” of fees had to go into the general budget to be spent for creative accounting purposes. As they say, sounds like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Does this sound financially responsible? We should require an answer from our elected/appointed officials as to why this is even a discussion at this point. Further, is this mismanagement affecting other areas in the Town such as the RR parking? What other “unforeseen” capital hits are looming out there that aren’t being reserved for? Big thanks to whoever was suppose to be watching the books at the marina.

  33. Dan Lasley (Laz)

    I like the 80-20 split (or even 60-40), where boaters carry the major portion. It reflects the direct/indirect benefits to boaters and the community as a whole.

  34. Virginia Tienken

    Amen to Phil Perri’s comments. Everyone knew this would come up eventually and should be prepared for it.

  35. If the marina is not dredged there will be no marina.
    If a community tax payer prefers not to pay for dredging, then move out of the community.

  36. Nathan Gottlieb

    Market price for slips in lower Fairfield County is $159 per foot for the season. Slip fees from Westport are less than half market rate. The revenue potential is there with an audience and a waiting list. The town should pay for the dredging but the town easily has the opportunity to more than make up for its investment in the town facility.

  37. Michael Lonsdale

    I have enjoyed docking my boat at Compo Basin for years. In terms of who should foot the bill we must not forget that this marina is a major access point for Police and Coast Guard to allow rescue on the water and transportation to land for Medivac. Our Marine Police are stationed at Compo Marina as well as the three Police boats. If not dredged in the near future it will be reclaimed as marsh and not navigable by the Police boats as well. This channel is vital for access for the safety of all boaters on the Sound. It is the responsibility of all taxpayers of Westport to maintain this vital link for safe boating.

  38. I find this debate very interesting. Though you may claim I am biased because in 2014 after 8 years on the list I became a proud boat owner with a slip at Compo Beach. Even if I was not – I would have expected the town to budget accordingly to cover the cost.

    Our harbor is used for a variety of purposes from recreational to commercial – weighted heavily towards recreational. As Mr. Lonsdale noted, the water way is utilized by the Police and Coast Guard to ensure safety– that alone justifies the dredging regardless of who is funding it. Many others noted it adds to the flavor of a waterside community, ever increasing the value of our town and our quality of life. I believe it is even more important to recognize the many amenities our great town currently funds which do not tax those who utilize them with increased frequency.

    This is a precedent that I would not recommend the Board of Finance or the RTM Finance Committee to explore. In addition to the already funded amenities, there are still many future project that will then come under fire should such a precedent be set. The public library, the proposed new lockers at Compo, the various ball fields…. Are we going to begin to charge additional fees to use those?

    Boat owners already pay a fair and equitable annual fee for use of the marina and I fear an assumption is being made that those with boats have more money. As irrelevant as that is – that is the tone of this debate.

    To undertake a “Pay to Play” stance can have serious repercussions. With prudent budgeting and proper oversight I am sure there is a way to fund the dredging using current town funds as well as with the fees already collected by the marina(s) and other amenities this town charges for. To just burden the slip holders at compo marina with the cost is unacceptable and unfair.

  39. Has the dredging project applied for funding by the Army Corps of Engineers?

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