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Proposal for jet ski rentals at Town Docks put on hold


May 06, 2010
WOLFEBORO — At their April 21 meeting, Wolfeboro selectmen returned to a proposal by three Brewster students from Wolfeboro to rent jet skis at the Town Docks, and still found they had problems with the idea.

On April 7, Nathan and Kyle Drouin and Jacob Alden discussed with the board an application for a Hawkers and Peddlers License to operate a kiosk at the Town Docks to rent jet skis from June 1 to Sept. 1. The jet skis themselves would be housed "at an off-site location nearby." The three students had formed a partnership, Wolfeboro Jet-Ski Rentals, and planned to purchase four 2010 Sea-Doo GTI 130 jet skis and rent them on an hourly, half-day, daily and weekly basis. The proposed service would include instruction in the safe operation of the watercraft and providing a temporary boaters license. Renters would have to be at least 18 years of age and hold a valid driver's license.

In the original discussion on April 7, the question had arisen whether the proposed activity fell within the Hawkers and Peddlers license ordinance or was better approached through a Commercial Vessel Landing Permit (CVLP), since it would involve the use of the Town Docks. Use of the Town Docks by commercial vessels like the M/S Mount Washington, the Winnipesaukee Belle and the Millie B is licensed through a CVLP, which involves a fee based on the number of times the vessel is expected to dock. After some discussion the board agreed that a CVLP made more sense. The trio was asked to return on April 21 to allow time for the town to review any liability issues.

In the meantime, Captain Jim Morash of the M/S Mount Washington wrote on April 12 to comment on the jet ski proposal: "I would be remiss if I didn't write the board about the 'Mount's' concerns for navigational safety, if this were to become a reality. In my 30 years with Mount Washington Cruises I've seen many jet-ski companies come and go in the ports around the lake. My experience has shown me the majority of renters are inexperienced recreational boaters. I read the Wolfeboro Jet-Ski Rentals Company proposal and to support my concerns I noticed that although they will require a driver's license, they will be offering temporary boating licenses. Handing out temporary boating licenses does not instill the necessary knowledge to operate a vessel safely. Wolfeboro is the busiest Port on the lake during the summer months and the traffic in and out of port is often times chaotic. Considering all these elements I hope the Board understands our navigation safety concerns to bringing a 230' ship into the dock with additional inexperienced jet-ski operators buzzing in and out of the docking area."

At the April 21 meeting Victor Drouin, who is listed as a Business Advisor to Wolfeboro Jet-Ski Rentals, along with Peter Alden, and who is Nathan Drouin's father, said he had spoken with Morash about his safety concerns and agreed to avoid the docks when the Mount Washington comes in on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 11:15 a.m. and stay away until the ship leaves. Victor Drouin also said he had an email from Fire-Rescue Chief Morrill about issues with the town's fireboat, and pointed out that the proposed location would not interfere with the fireboat's operation. He added that in any emergency the jet ski operation would be shut down.

Nathan Drouin admitted they would not be able to control everything renters do, but they would have an extra jet ski available to deal with misbehavior. He also said they would do hourly rentals and not rent jet skis when the Mount Washington is in.

Kathy Eaton spoke as the owner and skipper of the Millie B, which offers 45-minute rides on the lake and is located on the other side of the dock proposed as the site for the jet ski operation. Eaton said she supported the entrepreneurial spirit of the three young men, but cautioned that the Town Docks were a very busy place. She said the Millie B does not run when the Mount is in because of the turbulence it creates. She said she too is concerned about untrained users coming back in on jet skis and added that she refers any inquiries about jet skis to Wet Wolves on Back Bay. Eaton recommended using one of the town docks in Back Bay, designating it as commercial.

Public Works Director Dave Ford also spoke against using the Town Docks for jet ski rentals. He said he has been working to improve Dockside and pointed to the Friendship Bench located there in summer, "the most beautiful seat in town, right where the jet skis would be." He said nothing should take away from that view and clutter the area. Commenting on Eaton's suggestion about using the Back Bay docks, he pointed out that they get busy too. "I'm not sure about the value of selling that space," he said.

Selectman Sarah Silk commented that in the 1990s, the concern was providing sufficient dock space to island residents.

Selectman Dave Senecal pointed out that the proposed CVLP fee is only $500 and similar space goes for $2,500. He added that he had an experience renting 10 jet skis with John Naramore and there were "lots of problems." Senecal agreed with Ford's objections and said he was not in favor.

Selectman Marge Webster asked the applicants if they had looked at a Back Bay location.

Victor Drouin responded that originally they had come to get permission for a kiosk at the docks, not a dock location. He said he thought the Hawkers and Peddler's permit fit the proposed use but then town staff recommended the CVLP approach. He said that the $500 Senecal cited was an estimate based on a standard rate for landings, the same paid by others. "You guys took us here, and now we're going to be denied," he complained. "We've lost a month and now we're just a month away from the season."

Selectmen Chair Linda Murray responded that she had seen the information on the proposal only at the April 7 meeting, adding that the permit was not formally on the agenda, so there was no public notice. She said she had no idea then that the applicants "were sent this way." She pointed out that the space requested for a kiosk was in an area where the town has no designated commercial space: "If we allow one, then others will request space." She said she shared the concerns expressed about safety. "I am not comfortable with amateur jet skis on Wolfeboro Bay," she said, adding that she did not favor Back Bay either. "I am sorry that this is the path the proposal took."

Peter Alden asked to speak. He said there is no other jet ski business in Wolfeboro, contradicting Eaton's statement. "You are locking out a new business," he complained, adding that the town does not know the level of experience of most boaters coming into Wolfeboro. Alden said the applicants had addressed the safety issues. "This would bring more business to Wolfeboro. I am concerned as a Chamber board member that we are not encouraging new business."

Nathan Drouin said "jet skis will be rented on the bay. Too bad you are blocking an activity in the Oldest Summer Resort in America."

Silk responded, "What we have here is a round peg for a square hole. We haven't excluded the use of town property on Back Bay. You should check around about dock availability."

Resident Fred Stephens asked the board to appoint a member to work with the young men to find a place. "You have an obligation to encourage youth," he said.

Victor Drouin said that the applicants had put a lot of time and thought into their proposal and that things have changed since Senecal ran jet skis. "It was voted the safest business in America last year," he said, adding that "going under the bridge to Back Bay is scary itself."

Silk moved to table the proposal to allow the applicants to come back with an alternate spot. The motion passed 4-0, with Senecal abstaining.

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