At one time it might have been a solid bet for V.I. lawmakers to offer seniors and veterans a discount. But when Bill No. 32-0008 came before the Committee of Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning Thursday it faced stiff resistance.
The bill would reduce mooring fees for seniors and veterans by 50 percent.
Sen. Dwayne DeGraff, who introduced the bill said “This should not have a major financial impact on the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR).”
However, Jean Pierre Oriol, director of DPNR Division of Coastal Zone, disagreed. He said the reduction of mooring fees would reduce the department’s ability to manage daily operations.
DeGraff introduced the bill in response to the recent raising of mooring fees. For the last 25 years, mooring fees had been five dollars per foot length of a boat. The new fees passed this summer are $10 per foot per year for mooring pleasure craft, $15 per foot for live-aboard houseboats, and $20 per foot for commercial craft.
Sen. Jean Forde said the discount was “way high.”
Sen. Brian Smith said, the proposal sounded good on its face, but asked what it would be costing the government.
Oriol said the new fee needed to be implemented so DPNR could begin collecting money to assist the Division of Environmental Enforcement in meeting its mandates.
Another problem was that DPNR did not collect data on who owned a boat and for what the boat was used, he said.
Another undercurrent also ran against the discount. Both Sens. Forde and Positive T.A. Nelson questioned why people who could afford to pay $60,000 or $80,000 for a boat could not pay a reasonable fee to the government.
Nelson also questioned how the sewage was being disposed of from the live-aboard boats.
Oriol said boat waste could legally be disposed of in two ways. Boat owners could go to a marina and have the sewage pumped out or they could go three miles out to sea and dump it. He agreed with Nelson there was probably illegal “night-time dumping” in the harbors.
Larry Benjamin, of St. Thomas who represented boaters at the hearing, said that this was not about the big yachts; this was about locals with small boats. He said the new fees would discourage them from taking part in maritime activities.
Ultimately, senators voted to hold the bill in committee for amendments.
Having DPNR in the Senate chambers, Nelson took the opportunity to tell Oriol he liked what the hurricane did on the west end of St. Croix. There now is a channel that goes over the road to Vincent Mason Park (the west end public swimming pool is located there). Nelson said the new channel allows the salt pond on the shore side of the road to drain into the ocean. Nelson asked if it would be possible to build a bridge over the new channel to allow access to Vincent Mason.
Oriol did not answer.