High & Dry
For the public: The Palm Beach County Commission recently voted to buy development rights to the Sailfish Marina & Resort in West Palm for $15 million, preserving dwindling dock space.
Throughout Broward and other nearby counties, boat owners, manufacturers and retailers all are pondering that question in the wake of a steady decline in dock space and boat ramps. Since 1998, more than 15,000 new recreational vessels have been registered in south Florida, yet total wet and dry dockage space has declined. Luxury yacht owners from Europe and the Northeast U.S. who park their boats in south Florida during the winter are feeling the worst pinch.
Industry leaders blame the shortage on rising waterfront land values coupled with the high cost of hurricane insurance. "With the amount of money on the table, you can't blame marina owners for wanting to cash out," says Scott Croft, spokesman for the Boat Owners Association of the United States. The marina industry is still dominated by mom-and-pop operations, says Croft.
Local officials are not ignoring the problem. A year ago, voters in Palm Beach County approved a $50-million bond issue to preserve and expand public access to the water. Some of those funds will be used to purchase development rights to privately owned marinas, assuring they remain in operation. Broward officials are exploring the possibility of dredging inland canals to accommodate new marinas. And in Martin County, officials are considering a "no net loss" policy on water access facilities, requiring developers to relocate dock space and boat ramps lost to residential projects.
Deadpans Croft: "Without access to water, there's not much you can do with a boat."