Island Enterprises requested continued discussion with City Council.
AVALON — The future of shoreboat service in Avalon is up in the air after the City Council delayed a planned public discussion on the topic on Aug. 2. Island Enterprises, which had regularly operated the shoreboat in the harbor until 2015 when it claimed the service became cost prohibitive, requested the matter be taken off the City Council agenda to allow for further discussions.
Shoreboat services in Avalon Harbor became an issue in 2015 when Island Enterprises told city officials there was no longer enough revenue to support transporting boaters to and from their vessels.
Since then there has been a debate of whether Avalon should help Island Enterprises cover costs or operate shoreboats on its own as a city service.
Harbormaster Brian Bray said in a report to council members the shoreboat is a valuable asset but later added what Avalon would have to acquire in order to operate the service on its own could be cost prohibitive to the city.
“The shoreboat service is an integral part of Avalon Harbor and a vital necessity for vessels visiting Avalon whose passengers need to get to shore to support the attractions, hotels, restaurants and the like,” Bray wrote in his staff report to council members. “If a shoreboat service did not exist, visitors would need to bring a dinghy with them to get ashore, which is not always practical or affordable.”
Avalon’s Harbor Department began contributing a shoreboat service in late 2015 after Island Enterprises cut back on transporting passengers to and from their moored or anchored vessels. If Avalon were to continue operating a shoreboat service with its own vessels it could come at a high cost.
“In order for the city to operate a shoreboat service, the city would need to purchase three to four Coast Guard certified passenger-carrying vessels with an initial cost of approximately $600,000 to $1 million, in addition to the on-going employee labor and benefit costs associated with the shoreboat operating year around.”
Island Enterprises claimed it loses money operating a shoreboat service. One option presented to the City Council: Island Enterprises would continue offering shoreboat service if Avalon subsidizes the company’s roughly $600,000 shortfall.
Subsidizing Island Enterprises would cause the harbor to operate in a deficit and could result in boaters paying more fees for a service they might not use, Bray stated in his report.
“The harbor is an enterprise fund and it must be self-funded. Providing a $600,000 subsidy to Island Enterprises would cause the harbor to operate in a deficit, despite the recent increase in harbor fees,” Bray wrote to council members. “It is my opinion the boaters and mooring owners would be against any additional increases in harbor fees to subsidize a shoreboat service they may not use, as boaters are accustomed to having their own dinghy for immediate transportation.”
Prior to the Aug. 2 council meeting city staff urged caution before deciding how to move forward with subsidized shoreboat service.
“Staff and the City Council need to discuss the impact of not providing this service, or viable options for the boating public who do not own or bring skiffs to Avalon,” Bray stated in his report to council members. “Staff is concerned about prioritizing expenditures in the Harbor Enterprise Fund, spending $600,000 to $1 million for harbor shoreboats versus other needs such as repairs to the mole or seawall.”
Bray, in his report, added the city’s biggest challenge is not in subsidizing a shoreboat service but instead in the high acquisition cost of each vessel.
“Staff projects that the city of Avalon could operate its own shoreboat service with the $250,000 already included in the [current] budget,” stated Bray. “The most significant challenge would be the acquisition of three vessels designed for shoreboat services. The estimated cost of a news shoreboat could be up to $270,000 and specialized boats are not commonly found.”
City Manager David Jinkens stated he understands the value of shoreboat service in Avalon but its associated costs, when compared to the number of people who utilize the service, might be prohibitive.
“While the city has contracted for shoreboat service for visiting boats in the harbor over many years, and the service has been ably provided by the current contractor, is the required costs and investment a good return on investment given the other city priorities,” asked Jinkens. “What would be the impact if this service is not provided by the city? In relationship to the number of visitors to Avalon per year, is the cost becoming too expensive for the number of people benefiting from the service?
“Is there a reasonable way to recover these additional costs or a portion of these added costs if the City Council wants to make the additional investment,” Jinkens continued.
Island Enterprises issued a three-page statement on July 7 addressing shoreboat service disruption. The company stated it expanded its services in 1988 to include cruise ship tendering and help offset the costs of transporting boat owners to and from their respective anchorages or moorings.
“In recent years, the revenues generated by cruise ship tendering helped offset the Avalon Harbor Shore Boat Service and its operating expenses. The revenue generated by the harbor ridership does not cover the cost to operate this service,” an Island Enterprises spokesperson said in a released statement.
The company stated it lost out on its contract for cruise ship tendering, in violation of its exclusive franchise agreement, in 2014, causing Island Enterprises to lose about $600,000 in annual revenue.
Island Enterprises stated it transported more than 63,000 passengers to the harbor aboard its shoreboat service, collecting an average fare of $4 per person. The cost to operate the service, according to Island Enterprises, is $170 per hour, an amount, the company stated, was not covered by user fares.
“The service cannot sustain itself on ridership revenue alone,” a company spokesperson stated, adding the shore boat service should be subsidized similar to other forms of public transportation.
Accordingly Island Enterprises stated it would continue providing shoreboat services if the city of Avalon provided subsidized funding.