Marina owners, hospitality group say Corps plan will be harmful to tourism

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

BEAVER?LAKE-- Linda Lemon of Starkey's Marina is upset with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

At issue is a confusing new policy of flotation standards for marinas in the Corps' Little Rock District, which include Table Rock, Beaver, Bull?Shoals,?Norfork,?Clearwater, Greers Ferry,?Dardanelle and Millwood lakes.

But Lemon is not quite as upset about the new standards, which require shifting floatation from white foam to more expensive encapsulated foam, as she is about how the Corp of Engineers is requiring information from marina operators, which it already has on hand.

That information includes how much money a marina generates, the number of slips, their size, rental fees and number rented, and the anticipated increase in fees for the marinas to pay for the considerably more expensive encapsulated foam's installation.

"They already have this information," Lemon said. "They are trying to make us get the information because the colonel has not been here long enough, and they now want us to do their work for them."

As for anticipated revenue, she said "To go up $400 to $600 a year on every slip, we won't have anyone (renters) left," Lemon said. "There's no way."

Former Corps District Director Col. Wally Walters called in July for marinas in Corps-operated lakes in the Little Rock District to replace their dock flotation foam with the encapsulated product by 2017.

That statement prompted a statement from the Arkansas Hospitality Association on Sept. 26 to approve elimination of the new policy, which has caused confusion and anxiety for marina owners in the Little Rock District.

AHA?board members are concerned, also, that heavy costs associated with the new policy will boost prices for consumers, negatively impacting Arkansas Tourism.

Said Montane McNulty, AHA executive director, "It has become clear that this policy is poorly conceived and confusing. While we appreciate the Corps' recent attempts to involve the industry in this policy's improvement, this openness comes only after the policy was rushed into place.?The fairest and most appropriate avenue would be to rescind the current policy and start from scratch."

The deadline for the policy to take effect is also confusing. Those deadlines have included the date when a current marina lease expires, which particularly had Lemon concerned, as the Starkey Marina lease expires in two years.

However, Andrea Lewis, of the Little Rock Office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the deadline for those like Lemon, with short time left on their current lease, was extended to 2010, then again to at least 2017.

Many marina operators are concerned, Lewis said, that time is not long enough to make the transition.

The Corps is looking again at re-evaluating the policy with an eye for a different time frame. Lewis said she is fairly certain the time will be extended to more than 10 years, but whether that is 20 or 30 years, or when the current styrofoam wears out is not certain.

Still, Lemon says, "I'm not in the business for my health. To do it,?I have to have return on my investments, and I will not raise slip prices, for those who have rented for years, between $400 and $600 per year.

"They just took my retirement," she continued. "They devalued my business by about $350,000 or more. My banker and my accountant are saying 'No, you will not be able to have the return on your investment to warrant doing it all at once.'"

The point, she said, is one can only do so much. If she saved enough to do one dock a year, at the end of 10 years, with the increasing costs of gasoline and oil, the price will be sky high for those left to do.

Encapsulated foam is already four times the price of standard white styrofoam, she said, holds less weight and has only an eight-year guarantee, while some of the white styrofoam at Starkey Marina has been there for 30 years and is still serviceable.

"I can understand the esthetics and environmental concerns fine and dandy, but it is a problem trying to solve a problem."

She said the actual cost of redoing Starkey?Marina with encapsulated foam is unknown, but that additional costs are involved, including installation, removal and disposal.

"To start at the front of the store and go six docks down and take it all out will start an economic disaster that won't quit," she said, not to mention the environmental impact of loose styrofoam pellets floating in the lake even when restrictive nets are used.

The other major marina in Carroll County is that of Holiday Island Suburban Improvement District, who leases the facility to Alan Krier. District Manager Kevin?Crosson was not available for comment, but Krier said he believes the lease at Holiday Island runs to 2019 or 2020.

McNulty stated that the AHA and marina operators have met with representatives from the offices of U.S. Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor and U.S. Representatives Marion Berry, Vic Snyder and John Boozman to share industry concerns regarding the new regulation.

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