For Bob Elny, the free docking and use of electricity along the Champlain Canal is troubling as he sees business at the Champlain Harbor Marina drop.
“Last week, I saw 21 boats docked along the canal,” said Elny, who addressed members of the Whitehall Town Board at their Aug. 11 meeting. “I did some quick math, and I found that those boats cost us $1,102 of dock fees each night that we are losing, which adds up to over $30,000 a week, which would more than cover our tax obligations to the town.”
Elny said he was also concerned the town was providing free electricity for the boaters who docked along the canal.
“That is a problem that I have, and I don’t know who is paying for that electricity,” said Elny.
“The town has been,” said Town Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon.
“So the taxpayers are paying for that, and I happen to be a taxpayer,” said Elny. “I don’t think that it is legal that public funds are going toward this when you can’t get a return on it.”
Town Councilman Richard LaChapelle said the town took over the payments for the electricity along the canal docks after the American Legion.
“When the electricity was first installed, the Canal Corporation took care of the costs for two years,” said LaChapelle. “When that was up, the American Legion wanted to do it, but after one year found that it was too much of an expense. The town has been doing it since.”
Elny also questioned the length of time that boats are allowed to dock along the canal.
“Forty-eight hours is all the time that they need to spend the night and take showers in the Pavilion in the morning,” said Elny. “I would like to see both of the walls cut down to a two-hour limit so they are not used as overnight docks. For us, this is our mainstay in business and we can’t compete with the canal.”
“Both of them walls are going to be free forever and there is nothing that is going to be done about that,” said Gordon. “That is a Canal Corporation matter. The only issue for us as a town is the electricity and we have talked to the Canal Corp. and the last that I knew, they were going to put meters in. I agree with you that people should be paying for their own electricity.”
The board and others also told Elny that he would have to speak to the Canal Corp. directly about his concerns.
“You need to call Mrs. (Carmella) Matello,” said Carol Greenough, village heritage coordinator. “Whatever we have out here was created by the Canal Corp., including the electricity. The whole idea of the Canal Corp. with developments in the harbor communities is to be as welcoming as we can be to the traveler by water.”
Elny expressed his concern, however, that boaters were taking advantage of the hospitality.
“Every boater that comes here sees that they can park along the canal for free and they are flagging down other boaters and letting them know and then tying together with them,” said Elny. “Most of the people who tie up along the Canal are not coming down to my restaurant.”
“The interest of the Canal Corp. is to get more people to use and enjoy the waterways,” said Tom Ryan, who was representing the Canal Corp. at the meeting for a different matter. “In a situation like this, there may be answers that you are not aware of. What I am saying is that there are options and you need to sit down with Carmella and make your points and let them know and I am sure that she will work with you.”
In a follow-up interview on Monday, Aug. 16, Elny said that he had talked with someone at the Canal Corp.
“We had a lengthy conversation,” said Elny. “The Reader’s Digest version of it is that there is no place along the canal where they pay for docking or electric, so there is not much they can do there.”
Elny did say that there were some options thrown out on how to promote the local businesses along the canal.
“They brought up the idea of a sign on the canal that shows all of the local businesses and where they are located,” said Elny. “I think that would be a step in the right direction because I have people who come by in the morning and claim that they didn’t know that I was just below the canal.”
Elny said one of his other concerns was also addressed.
“They told me that there was no rafting, or tying boats together, allowed,” said Elny. “The police have the right to ticket anyone that does that.”