From Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson           

Public Boat Ramps

At the meeting of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) on August 29th, the Commissioners heard a presentation on Public Boat Ramps by the Parks and Recreation Division. The purpose of the presentation was to discuss issues concerning business operations at public boat ramps. Conflicts between multiple operators and private businesses at the Highway 50 boat ramp in East Orange County as well as concerns with the commercial use of boat ramps throughout the County were discussed. In regard to the concerns with commercial use of boat ramps, the following were mentioned: There is no contractual relationship with operators; there is possible liability for non-recreational use; perception that commercial use is authorized by the County and therefore meets safety requirements; issues with compliance with license and operating standards; and issues of accessibility for citizens to use public boat ramps. To offer readers of this article some perspective on these concerns, the following paragraph offers some background information on public boat ramps.

The Highway 50 Boat Ramp provides access to the St. Johns River; St. Johns owns property that is not currently being used. However, this arrangement offers only limited public access.

There have been reported significant capital improvements both in 2013 and 2015. In addition, there are now 21 parking spaces or 11 spaces for trucks with tracks.

Numerous airboat businesses now advertise Orange County’s Highway 50 boat ramp as their business address. In fact, one airboat business has recently requested permits to use the Highway 50 boat ramp. Midway, an adjacent airboat tour company objects, however, to the increased commercial use of a County boat ramp, citing unfair competition by private operators using a public facility.

The BCC approved Parks Division Rules & Regulations in 2011 prohibiting any boat operating for hire except by special permit. Since that time, no permits have been issued. However, in response to requests from commercial operators, County staff sent a letter in 2012 allowing airboat businesses to utilize the Highway 50 boat ramp, provided that they comply with the following: Not advertise or market a business in the County Park; and not perform any business transactions on property.

Business operations similar to that of airboats may include fishing guide services, and boat and jet ski rentals. Existing Parks rules and regulations are currently not enforceable due to a lack of an ordinance at the county level. Brevard and Osceola counties, which are adjacent to Orange County, regulate business operations through ordinances and single vendor agreements. Provisions of other local ordinances include the following: Hours of operation; prohibited commercial uses; exemptions for fishing guides and approved vendors; and establishments for the code enforcement process and penalties. The provision on commercial uses specifically prohibits the following: Picking up or dropping off passengers; soliciting commercial activity for hire; designating a county site as a physical address; and collecting compensation on-site.

Boat ramp locations in Orange County include the following: Magnolia Park; Trimble Park; Barnett Park; R.D. Keene Park; Lake Down; Moss Park; the Randolph St. Boat Ramp; Fern Creek Boat Ramp; Bywater Boat Ramp; Woodsmere Boat Ramp; and Highway 50 Boat Ramp.

In conjunction with a County-wide boat ramp ordinance, a Request for Proposal (RFP)/vendor agreement would allow the County to do the following: Authorize limited commercial activity at select boat ramps; require minimum levels of insurance and liability; and provide for revenue sharing and other value-added services.

At the conclusion of its presentation, the Parks and Recreation Division offered some ways that the County could address the concerns surrounding this issue moving forward. The County can implement an ordinance similar to those of adjoining counties, and can regulate commercial activity using 1 of 3 options. Option 1 issues unlimited permits at boat ramps provided that they meet all County requirements. This option mitigates liability concerns because of the permit requirements, allows operators to remain in business, is inconsistent with Parks and Recreation vendor practices, and will allow for congested ramps to remain congested. Option 2 prohibits all businesses at boat ramps. This option eliminates safety and liability concerns, ensures that the County does not compete with private, tax paying businesses, and shows that exiting businesses may be forced to relocate. The final option issues a RFP to select one or more vendors to provide specified services at select boat ramps. This option does the following:  Ensures that vendors are certified, licensed, and carry County-required liability insurance; provides limited competition without affecting viability of private, tax-paying businesses operating their own facilities; and will allow public access to improve at congested ramps.

In summary, airboat and commercial operations have increased at public boat ramps. An ordinance is needed to protect Orange County and its residents, and will provide a framework for permits and allow for enforcement. Direction is needed by the Board on allowing commercial users at specified County boat ramps (which option to utilize).

 

The purpose of the presentation was to discuss issues concerning business operations at public boat ramps. Conflicts between multiple operators and private businesses at the Highway 50 boat ramp in East Orange County as well as concerns with the commercial use of boat ramps throughout the County were discussed. In regard to the concerns with commercial use of boat ramps, the following were mentioned: There is no contractual relationship with operators; there is possible liability for non-recreational use; perception that commercial use is authorized by the County and therefore meets safety requirements; issues with compliance with license and operating standards; and issues of accessibility for citizens to use public boat ramps. To offer readers of this article some perspective on these concerns, the following paragraph offers some background information on public boat ramps.

Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson

The Highway 50 Boat Ramp provides access to the St. Johns River; St. Johns owns property that is not currently being used. However, this arrangement offers only limited public access.

There have been reported significant capital improvements both in 2013 and 2015. In addition, there are now 21 parking spaces or 11 spaces for trucks with tracks.

Numerous airboat businesses now advertise Orange County’s Highway 50 boat ramp as their business address. In fact, one airboat business has recently requested permits to use the Highway 50 boat ramp. Midway, an adjacent airboat tour company objects, however, to the increased commercial use of a County boat ramp, citing unfair competition by private operators using a public facility.

The BCC approved Parks Division Rules & Regulations in 2011 prohibiting any boat operating for hire except by special permit. Since that time, no permits have been issued. However, in response to requests from commercial operators, County staff sent a letter in 2012 allowing airboat businesses to utilize the Highway 50 boat ramp, provided that they comply with the following: Not advertise or market a business in the County Park; and not perform any business transactions on the property.

Business operations similar to that of airboats may include fishing guide services, and boat and jet ski rentals. Existing Parks rules and regulations are currently not enforceable due to a lack of an ordinance at the county level. Brevard and Osceola counties, which are adjacent to Orange County, regulate business operations through ordinances and single vendor agreements. Provisions of other local ordinances include the following: Hours of operation; prohibited commercial uses; exemptions for fishing guides and approved vendors; and establishments for the code enforcement process and penalties. The provision on commercial uses specifically prohibits the following: Picking up or dropping off passengers; soliciting commercial activity for hire; designating a county site as a physical address, and collecting compensation on-site.

Boat ramp locations in Orange County include the following: Magnolia Park; Trimble Park; Barnett Park; R.D. Keene Park; Lake Down; Moss Park; the Randolph St. Boat Ramp; Fern Creek Boat Ramp; Bywater Boat Ramp; Woodsmere Boat Ramp; and Highway 50 Boat Ramp.

In conjunction with a County-wide boat ramp ordinance, a Request for Proposal (RFP)/vendor agreement would allow the County to do the following: Authorize limited commercial activity at select boat ramps; require minimum levels of insurance and liability and provide for revenue sharing and other value-added services.

At the conclusion of its presentation, the Parks and Recreation Division offered some ways that the County could address the concerns surrounding this issue moving forward. The County can implement an ordinance similar to those of adjoining counties and can regulate commercial activity using 1 of 3 options. Option 1 issues unlimited permits at boat ramps provided that they meet all County requirements. This option mitigates liability concerns because of the permit requirements, allows operators to remain in business, is inconsistent with Parks and Recreation vendor practices, and will allow for congested ramps to remain congested. Option 2 prohibits all businesses at boat ramps. This option eliminates safety and liability concerns, ensures that the County does not compete with private, tax-paying businesses, and shows that existing businesses may be forced to relocate. The final option issues an RFP to select one or more vendors to provide specified services at select boat ramps. This option does the following:  Ensures that vendors are certified, licensed, and carry County-required liability insurance; provides limited competition without affecting the viability of private, tax-paying businesses operating their own facilities; and will allow public access to improve at congested ramps.

In summary, airboat and commercial operations have increased at public boat ramps. An ordinance is needed to protect Orange County and its residents and will provide a framework for permits and allow for enforcement. Direction is needed by the Board on allowing commercial users at specified County boat ramps (which option to utilize).

 

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