Boat launch operations going to bid

It must be getting close to nice weather.

The Dunkirk Harbor Commission held its first meeting since October with the city boat launch and its operation dominating the conversation. How to draw more people to the city’s waterfront was another concern.

In April 2013, the commission presented Mayor Anthony J. Dolce its ideas on privatizing the operation of the boat launch. While too late for the 2013 season, the plan for soliciting requests for proposals is still in the works for this season.

At least one commission member was skeptical of the idea.

“As far as the fish cleaning station, the boat launching, the whole nine yards, if you really look at how much money can be made at this, it’s not a lot,” Kurt Warmbrodt stated. “So asking any individual to come in and try to run this as a money-making venture, or as a good-faith kind of just-to-break-even venture, we can’t really expect any individual to take too much liability in owning, (maintaining), or anything else with that facility.”Chairman Jim Nichols said a fisherman or somebody knowledgeable about the city who is good with people is needed.

“It’s not something that they’ll make a living off it,” he added.

City resident Mike Rosing defended 2013 harbormaster Bill Heenan.

“He did a decent, honorable, hard-working job. … The mayor knows there’s a problem down there too, the fish cleaning station,” Rosing continued. “You can’t make money on that.”

Nichols pointed out the launch was weather dependent but Heenan was busy keeping an eye on the launch.

“It’s something that’s good to help the image of the city, but financially it makes no sense at all for anybody to get involved in it,” Nichols added. “He’s (Heenan) stuck between a rock and a hard place, it’s hard to keep everybody happy.”

Rosing said there were a couple people “hell bent on crucifying (Heenan).”

“If this is such a great asset for the city then the city should take a little more interest in running it themselves and trying to do the best job they can,” Warmbrodt said. “And yes, if I was a businessman and trying to be in business down there maybe it’d be fun to try it for a few years, but making $5 an hour … if you’re going to be open enough hours and be there constantly, I don’t know. Is it that great of an asset or is it better if the city just opened the boat launch and everybody launch for free?

“Just let it open. Fish cleaning station, too bad. Why put anybody there if it’s a losing proposition? Just let it go. I’m just throwing that out there.”

Nichols replied that somebody had to be there as liability was an issue.

Commissioner Al Zurawski pointed out the Lake Erie launches are different.

“The activity is a little different when you have tournaments coming in here. When we have people coming in for bass season it’s an entirely different operation than Chautauqua Lake or Findley Lake or any other lake,” Zurawski explained. “You’ve got to direct traffic, you’ve got to be knowledgeable on what needs to be done and you need to promote the city and that’s what the harbormaster does.”

According to city budget figures, the boat launch took in $12,505 in 2013 while the fish cleaning station netted another $266.

“They weren’t open half the time when they could have collected more money directing more people. … Again, are you willing to dedicate more people at minimum wage to be there?” Warmbrodt asked, adding if the city wasn’t willing to spend more maybe tourism is not that important.

Zurawski said there were other factors, citing the decline of the fishing industry and higher gas prices, in addition to lake and weather conditions. Renting bikes or kayaks from the building was mentioned but the lack of space in the building would be a factor.

“I think privatizing, if someone wants to do it, is fine,” Nichols said. “You just have to get someone who’s interested in the city of Dunkirk. It has to be someone who has a genuine interest in fishermen and he knows what’s going on.”

Warmbrodt said the city should not charge a penny to a boat launch operator and let that person keep what they take in.

“Pay the city nothing, that would be my recommendation. … If anybody’s going to open it aren’t they going to open it with the hope of making that $13,000 and at least put that into their employees?” he asked.

Warmbrodt also called for city residents to continue to get launch discounts if a private operator ran the boat launch.

Nichols pointed out that any proposal would have to be approved by Common Council.

Concerns about the condition of the launch were also discussed.

“Is the city willing to give this a little bit of a shot in the arm to get it up to snuff? Is it a great tourist attraction or is it just something the city doesn’t give much effort to?” Warmbrodt asked. “And that’s for all the council people who are going to vote on this thing, not just the mayor, but all of them. Maybe they’re not boaters and they just don’t see any of that.”

“We wanted them to review our draft, we haven’t officially gone out to bid yet,” Dolce said later, adding there will be applications once the RFP is set. “We are definitely putting it out to bid and gauging the public’s interest. People have said they wouldn’t mind doing it, but what does that mean? That’s why we go through an official process.”

Send comments to gsnyder@observertoday.com