MANATEE COUNTY – A user fee is being proposed for boaters using any of the Manatee County managed boat ramps.
There are 10 county-managed boat ramps in Manatee County with three on Anna Maria Island, Kingfish Boat Ramp in Holmes Beach and the Coquina North and South Boat Ramps in Bradenton Beach, and one, the Palma Sola Boat Ramp, on the Palma Sola Causeway near Flamingo Cay. With renovations needed at Kingfish, Coquina South and Palma Sola, along with a planned parking expansion at the Highland Shores Boat Ramp, county leaders are looking for a way to help pay for repairs, management and ongoing maintenance. During an Aug. 15 work session, Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker presented a plan – charge the boat ramp users a fee.
The proposal from the Parks and Natural Resources staff is to charge $5 per day for boat trailer parking spaces. If the fee is charged, it’s estimated that each parking space would generate $500 in revenue each year, equaling $146,500 in annual revenue for 293 trailer parking spaces. The estimate to install solar-powered parking machines at the boat ramps is $65,000 with $5,400 in annual data costs.
Commissioner Carol Whitmore said that with the amount of money that would be raised with paid parking, she doesn’t feel that it’s worth it.
“I don’t support them, 100%,” she said. “I just don’t support charging to park our boats.” She added that she hopes her fellow commissioners won’t support paid parking at boat ramps either.
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said she is more in favor of charging for paid parking at the boat ramps due to the use of the ramps for commercial businesses.
“I don’t think it’s right that a commercial fisherman should be able to use our ramps to run their business,” she said.
Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace said that she believes that fishermen would be willing to pay to park if it gave them access to the county’s busy boat ramps. She added that she hopes the county finds a way to expand its boat ramps and maybe a way to provide preferential treatment for boaters who live in Manatee County.
“It only makes sense to charge user fees,” Commissioner Besty Benac said.
With the number of registered vessels in Manatee County jumping from 17,940 in 2015 to 20,931 in 2018, the county’s boat ramps are operating over capacity on a regular basis, according to Hunsicker. Adding in the approximately 395,000 Manatee County residents, the presentation notes that there should be 52 boat ramp lanes in the county to adequately accommodate everyone according to standards outlined in the county’s comprehensive plan. There are currently 18 boat ramp lanes in use in Manatee County in the nine improved boat ramps, not including the Lake Manatee Boat Ramp. In the nine boat ramps, there are 293 trailer parking spaces, not including those available to other vehicles.
Hunsicker also proposed creating a public-private partnership to create new boat ramps in the area, specifically one with Pen Bay 1 LLC to create a new four-lane boat ramp with access to Palma Sola Bay and 80 parking spaces in Cortez at the site of the proposed Peninsula Bay residential subdivision project. He said that the project as proposed would not change the shoreline of Palma Sola Bay.
He said the developer estimated in 2018 that the construction costs for the project, including cutting a channel to the bay, would be $10-15 million with the costs shared between the county and the developer. If county leaders opt to move forward with the project, Hunsicker said the developer is ready to go into design for the project as early as fiscal year 2020.
Whitmore said she feels “very good” about the possibilities of the project and applauded the developer for wanting to commit land to a public boat ramp that could be developed into more housing.
Currently, funds for boat ramp projects and renovations come from either matching funds with the West Coast Inland Navigation District or the Florida Boating Improvement Program from vessel registration fees. Without finding additional funding sources, Hunsicker said the county won’t meet their goals over the next five years to renovate existing boat ramps.
No decisions were made by commissioners due to the discussion taking place during a work session.