Town bans overnight boat docking, in effort to crackdown on abusers of system. Some residents feel the measure is too extreme.
By Jamie Organski
Given Old Forge’s reputation as a popular tourist area, particularly in the summer months, it comes as no surprise that with an influx of visitors comes the congestion of boats at the local lakefront on Old Forge Pond.
This issue has plagued the area for several years, and the bottlenecking is only partly due to increased visitors, and also due to some boat owners taking advantage of a legal loophole. The long-standing Lakes and Waterways town law allowed boaters to dock their boats on town-owned docks for a period of two weeks before initiating a fine of $250.
As it was more affordable to dock their boats at the lakefront all summer and pay the fine every two weeks than to utilize the services of local marinas, repeat offenders occupied spaces that could otherwise accommodate day trippers.
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Closing the loop
To address the problem, the Town of Webb Town Board hosted a public hearing on April 13 to hear public feedback regarding an amendment to the town law that would ban overnight boat/vessel docking at the Old Forge Lakefront during the summer.
Many attendees expressed distaste with how the hearing was being run, adding that it seemed that the majority of the town board had already made up their minds to prohibit overnight boat docking.
Instead of investigating the feasibility of alternative solutions pitched by local residents and Webb Councilman Kurt Gardner, at its May 11 meeting the Webb Town Board voted 4 to 1 to prohibit overnight boat docking. The rule applies to town-owned docks at the Old Forge Lakefront from June 15 to September 15 from midnight to 6 a.m., starting this year. The ban applies to all boats and vessels, including motorboats, row boats, pontoon boats, jet skis, canoes, and kayaks. All boaters who violate this new law will receive a $250 fine per infraction.
The decision caused many to question why the board wouldn’t consider an incremental change such as implementing heftier fines or lessening the allowable amount of time people can dock their boats from two weeks to three or four days, and formulate a workable plan to remedy the abused docking system at the Old Forge Lakefront.
Town of Webb Supervisor Dave Berkstresser points to the Town of Inlet, which has also banned overnight boat docking, saying that this measure has allowed for adequate spaces to be available during the day.
Berkstresser said it was time for the board to send a message to those who have abused the system for so long, and that message was, “We have had enough.”
Since the vote, many residents and visitors have labeled the decision as hasty and reckless, as it punishes everyone for the poor behavior of a few. Many local residents and business owners expressed concern that the transition from allowing boat docking for a two-week span to an overnight ban is too extreme and leaves guests who travel to the area with their boat for a weekend trip high and dry.
Old Forge resident Ed Tondryk pointed out that since Old Forge is a popular tourist destination, the board has a responsibility to accommodate visitors.
“Like it or not, we are a tourist town, destination, and playground,” he said. “To cut this off and not give people another [option] [seems unfair.] And don’t say Inlet, because it is already overused and overparked.”
Councilman Gardner voted against the motion, and Webb Supervisor Berkstresser, Councilman Don Haehl, Councilwoman Barbara Green and Councilman Mike Ross voted in favor of the ban.
During previous board meetings, Gardner recommended the board consider adopting a parking meter approach in which boaters could reserve overnight spaces through a reservation system controlled via cellular application.
“There is serious abuse [of the system at the lakefront] going on, but I have a hard time with such an extreme [decision] and not offering any overnight parking,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have been using it properly and it is a necessity to them. I feel like there is a balance we could find.”
Local resident Mary Brophy-Moore said a permit pass/kiosk system would not only help to clear up congestion at the lakefront, it would also prove to be a profit center for the town. She said perhaps the town board is to blame for failing to regulate the system properly for the past several years.
Denise Reynolds pitched an idea to ban overnight boat docking one day a week (suggesting each Sunday during the summer). This action would make it so squatters would need to pull their boats out of the water, ensure spaces were available at the beginning of the week, and would prove easier for local police to enforce. Reynolds urged the board to consider reaching a happy medium between the previous law and a complete overnight docking ban.
“Perhaps the decision should be postponed until a real plan could be considered. Please consider all of us who love and respect Old Forge for all that it is, and that dock is part of it,” she said.
As another long-term solution, Green announced the board’s intention to work on a plan to accommodate overnight boat/vessel spaces on town-owned property on the Pied Piper side of the Old Forge Pond. The plan would likely include the construction of finger docks along that area, and while she believed there was not adequate time for such a project this year, she was hopeful that the plan would take root within the next couple of years.
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