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But basic services at most marinas, wet slips, and dry storage have always been run by the county. Even if those services are privatized, the county will retain control of boat ramps, which earn eight dollars every time a vessel is put in the water.

County Manager Merrett Stierheim approved the marina RFP in November. It requires interested firms to bid on at least two marinas, including Haulover Park and Pelican Harbor. The choice of those two facilities makes privatization opponents suspicious that Westrec has the inside track. The company already manages Haulover, and Pelican Harbor is nearby. Moreover, Pelican Harbor has run in the red for several years, making it ripe for privatization.

One key provision of the RFP: The county commission will have the power to control the maximum leasing rates for boat slips. Opponents don't believe that will hold down rates. "This is a no-brainer," says Anthony Chiocca, who docks at Crandon. "It's simple mathematics. In order for a private firm to give to the county what the county already makes now and earn a profit on top of that, it will have to raise rates. We will all be forced out."

"Of course they'll raise the charges," insists Jay Silbert, a Matheson Hammock tenant. "Given what the county charges now, it will be the only way."

"We have the same concern," says Dwayne Powell, head of a boaters organization at Hoover, who wrote a letter to Cutie decrying privatization.

Eric Stuart, president of the Key Biscayne Charter Boat Association, represents ten operators of fishing boats docked at Crandon. They currently pay $400 per month in rent. "We're adamantly opposed to this and we've said so to the manager's people," he says. "We're very good for tourism. We do one million dollars in business every year and we create hotel, restaurant, and tax revenue. But once a private firm comes in, you're at their mercy."

Westrec has made money in many other marinas across the country. The company has an annual revenue of about $50 million and operates about 30 marinas in eight states. It is also overseeing a $35-million-taxpayer-funded renovation of Chicago's facilities. Since late 1995 when Westrec took over, that city has seen profits from municipal marinas rise from $2.6 million to $6.6 million, according to Eleanor Lipinski, Chicago's director of lakefront services. "Our arrangement with Westrec has been one of the most successful privatization ventures the city has tried," she contends.

But the increased profits are the result of higher rates for docking, Lipinski says. She adds that, as is the case in Miami-Dade, Chicago's publicly owned marinas charged less than private ones before Westrec took over. Scott Stevenson, a Westrec vice president based in Chicago, says rates have increased between 10 percent and 36 percent since the takeover. But he insists that upgrades have helped to increase occupancy rates. "We have found that boat owners are willing to pay for the improved services," he says.

Bill Anderson, Westrec's president, says Miami-Dade will present different issues than Chicago, where almost the entire marina infrastructure needed replacing. "In a place like Miami, we might increase the attractions at a marina," he states. Among the possibilities: family centers with diversions for children, fishing tournaments, and rental of small motorboats.

Miami attorney Dan Paul, who has criticized wasteful government policies in the past, is appalled. "One of the reasons we pay taxes is to have amenities like parks and marinas and I don't think those facilities should be used as revenue producers," he says.

RFP opponents say privatization is already creeping into Miami-Dade. In December Marine Funding Group Inc., which runs the PGA Marina in Palm Beach and the Palm Beach Polo Club, assumed management of most facilities at Black Point. The previous tenant, Marine Management Inc., operated it until it declared bankruptcy in 1996.

Darlene Oliphant and other privatization opponents have raised questions about Marine Funding's relationship with Westrec. Marine Funding holds liens on Westrec properties and took over former Westrec holdings (including Tavernier Creek Marina and Faro Blanco) when debts came due. "In cases like these, people get sweetheart deals when another company can't pay its bills," says Oliphant. "You wonder if that won't happen again with Westrec."

County Commission Chairperson Gwen Margolis was also unhappy with the arrangement at Black Point. She was angered at what she considered the small amount of money that would come to the county for a ten-year lease that includes a waterside restaurant. Marina Funding won the contract with a bid of $2.25 million, or $225,000 per year.

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John Lantigua

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