(May 9, 2014) Two years after funding was first approved for the project, the city’s proposed new public boat ramp at 64th Street is still no closer to fruition due to a land acquisition battle.
City Engineer Terry McGean was able to give scant details about the issue this week, given that efforts to acquire the property are currently under negotiation. McGean had previously told City Council that he would be providing them an update on the deal in a closed-session meeting.
However, McGean did say that the new ramp’s design, completed last year, revealed that the project would need more space than would fit on the city’s land adjacent to the 64th Street wastewater treatment plant.
“Most of it is on city property, but there is a piece we need to get…that is essentially an underwater property,” McGean said.
Apparently, the city’s design calls for the ramp to extend into an area of water that is outside of the town’s parcel, and which it may not even have been aware was landed property given that the area is almost completely submerged beneath the bay.
“In order to do a two-lane ramp, which is what we think we need, there is basically a piece of submerged land that we are trying to acquire the rights to,” McGean said.
Until the city has the land, McGean cannot begin the lengthy state and federal permitting processes required for construction in a marine wetland.
“You get permits from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers,” McGean said. “But there are probably another 10 agencies involved in the review. You get two actual permits in the end, but there are a whole lot of people involved in the process.”
That process typically takes nine months, McGean said, and actual construction will take another year to 18 months.
“I’m fairly comfortable that I don’t think there’s going to be an issue getting the permits,” McGean said. “But I can’t apply for the permits until we acquire the property.”
Until then, the city will have to get by with what is currently its only public boat ramp at the intersection of Bering Road and Carribean Drive, in the area of 87th Street. Chronic overcrowding of that ramp, and of the long-term boat trailer parking area at 100th Street, was the major impetus for the proposed new ramp.
“It’s in a residential neighborhood so it doesn’t really fit well with the area,” McGean said. “There’s no trailer parking nearby, and the demand has far outstripped the capacity.”
Further, despite collecting roughly $15,000 per year in usage fees, the city loses money on the ramp given the cost of staffing and upkeep.
Councilman Joe Mitrecic suggested at a recent budget hearing that the launch fee should be raised to better match expenses. However, McGean said, the city has already hit the cap on how much it can charge.
“That ramp was constructed using state Waterway Improvement funds, and they have strict limits on how you can operate and how much you can charge,” McGean said.
However, the city is planning to pay the entirety of the cost this time around for the construction of the 64th Street ramp, although it will still benefit from $800,000 of state dredging work.
“We’re paying out-of-pocket for the ramp construction itself, and that’ll pay back the one at Caribbean Drive, so the restrictions would go away,” McGean said. “We’ll pay 100 percent on this one and that’ll basically buy out the state’s stake on the old one.”
After that, the city could charge as much as it wished – or, as has been proposed, restrict access of the ramp only to residents of that particular neighborhood, to reduce the traffic jams caused by boat trailers using a residential street as an access road.
“The restrictions could be changed to whatever the Mayor and Council wished,” McGean said.
The town borrowed $750,000 two years ago to help pay for the project, which is expected to total around $4 million, including state and city funds as well as the cost of the land previously purchased for the wastewater plant.