Port Whine

Miami-Dade County's proposal to privatize public marinas has mariners up in arms

Brescher attributes some of the past losses to expenses unrelated to marina operation. Pelican Harbor pays electricity bills for the bird sanctuary because it is on marina property. It also shells out money for a licensed boat captain to ferry visitors to an island near the marina. "[The captain] costs us $20,000 per year and it's not really a marina expense," he says. "We really only lost $40,000 last year and we'll wipe that out this year. We'll make money."

Jay Silbert, a Matheson Hammock tenant, also questions the county's accounting practices. "The records need to be audited," he says. "There appears to be money coming in that's not being credited to the marinas and expenses that belong to the parks that are charged to the marinas. There are a lot of funny things going on and a lot of questions."

A big question raised by Silbert and other RFP opponents: Why is the county leasing out some marina services in the first place? Several veteran dockside employees agree the county should reduce its contracts with private companies. In fact, they say, it should take on more responsibility. They point to the lucrative marina fuel docks, which are leased out and allegedly earn hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

The employees also criticize the bidding process for those services. For example, Westrec was allowed to renew its lease on the fuel dock at Crandon Park this year without competitive bidding. "Why does the county do that? You tell me," demands a county employee, who declines to give his name.

Parks department officials say Westrec was given the contract on a short-term basis, which didn't require competitive bidding. They also say that they don't operate fuel docks because that would force the county to run retail operations, which it is not equipped to do.

In an open letter to commissioners, Oliphant criticized the handling of potential money-making assets, such as the fuel docks. She also attacked a section of the RFP that would require the county to foot the bill when repairs cause slips to close. If privatization goes through taxpayers could get nailed, she contends. "So if we have another Hurricane Andrew type of event and all the slips at Crandon and Matheson Hammock are destroyed, the county would have to pay/credit the operator approximately $1.2 million per year until the slips are reconstructed and the operator would have little or no costs during that time," she stated in her letter.

"That's a lousy deal for the county, isn't it?" asks Oliphant.
Anderson believes Westrec can propose a good deal for Miami-Dade, but only if the public agrees. He understands marina tenants' concerns. "[Miami-Dade] may very well find that privatization isn't the way to go," he concedes. "You can't do it unless it's a win-win situation for both the company and the county. That's what people down there will have to decide.

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