Select Board Denies Request For Slip Transfer

by Ryan Bray
Orleans Harbormaster and Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears addresses an appeal regarding a recreational slip transfer before the select board Nov. 1.  RYAN BRAY PHOTO Orleans Harbormaster and Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears addresses an appeal regarding a recreational slip transfer before the select board Nov. 1. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – A request to transfer a recreational boat slip in Rock Harbor between siblings was denied on appeal by the select board earlier this month.

The board’s vote Nov. 1 to deny Daniel Vonthaden’s request to have his brother’s slip transferred to his name provided clarity on what constitutes a “hardship,” and how that standard should be applied to future requests for slip transfers.

In July, William Vonthaden wrote to Nate Sears, the town’s harbormaster and natural resources manager, requesting that his slip be transferred to Daniel and his wife, Mary. In his letter, he noted the couple have been making all payments on the slip and are in “good standing” with the town.

“They would like to get a new boat to put into the harbor and would like to have it under the title of the true owner of the new boat,” he wrote.

In his response dated Aug. 17, Sears said he could not honor the request without the select board’s authorization. Daniel replied with a request to appeal the denial to the board on the grounds that his brother is unable to assume payments on the slip.

“I was hoping that William could once again take over payments, but he found it a financial hardship at this time,” he wrote. “We as a family would like to see the slip remain in the Vonthaden name for as long as possible.”

At the Nov. 1 hearing, Sears said the town has a policy of not transferring “dockage” in the harbor. But he said there is a hardship clause in the harbor’s rules and regulations that is designed to allow transference for commercial and charter vessels, namely in instances where a captain is “aging out” and needs to hand off the slip to a successor.

“This [request] is fairly unique in that it’s a recreational vessel,” Sears said. He said it has been the town’s policy to deny transfer requests to allow input from the select board.

The recreational appeal is the first the town has entertained, and Sears raised concerns with setting a precedent for future appeals moving forward.

“My concern is there will be a long list of people behind if this is allowed,” he said.

There are three wait lists in Rock Harbor for people with boats under 24 feet, boats over 24 feet and privately maintained docks. Sears estimated that there are currently about 30 people on each list.

The wait lists help ensure that people are able to get slips in a fair and equitable manner and in a reasonable timeframe, Sears said. Allowing slips to be handed down through families would result in longer wait times for those on the list, he said.

“In my opinion, why have a wait list if that’s the situation?” he said.

Waitlisted individuals are charged $10 a year to keep their place, and they’re required to renew their standing on the list annually before March 31. Sears said reminder letters are sent to those on waitlists in January, but a failure to renew can result in them losing their spot.

Slip holders are charged about $67 per foot to dock their boats, Sears said. Mark Matison of the select board asked if Sears saw any justification for allowing a recreational slip transfer on the basis of hardship. Sears said he did not.

“The intent was to try and figure out and articulate a way to maintain that percentage of charter fleet [slips] in the harbor in a way that would be fair,” he said. “By no means was it put in place to create a loophole for recreational dockage to be transferable.”

“I understand in a small town, we want to help people out,” he added. “I’m not opposed to allowing any specific type of appeal or award, it’s just the precedent we set.”

But Daniel Vonthaden, who said he’s been paying for the slip for the past five years, argued that there are legitimate grounds for allowing the slip transfer for the 17-foot boat. He said his brother had “basically lost everything” and is unable to make the payments.

“The reason I appealed it and went forward with it is it is a true hardship case,” he told the select board.

The select board entertained the differences between commercial and recreational transfer requests and how the claim of “hardship” applies to each.

“Charter boats are small businesses,” said Andrea Reed of the select board. “The hardship, if it was indeed created for a small business, is that a qualitatively different threshold than recreational use?”

“The difference with commercial…the hardship is they want to keep the business going,” board chair Michael Herman said.

Mefford Runyon of the select board made a motion to uphold Sears’ decision to deny the request. The motion passed unanimously 5-0.

“It’s hard for me to use or find the term ‘financial hardship’ in a recreational situation,” he said. “Recreation is recreation, and if you can afford it you can afford it, and if you can’t, you can’t. I think the fairness here is as much for the people on the waiting lists as it is for the people with the slips.”

Sears noted that keeping the slip in William Vonthaden’s name does not prevent others from using the vessel.

“We don’t care who uses the boat,” he said. “We don’t care who pays the bill. The boat has to be registered and insured to the individual the dockage is assigned to.”

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