Owners say they can’t compete with free wall, electricity along the canal
The end of the boating season may very well be the end of the remaining Whitehall marinas.
Champlain Harbor Marina owner Bob Elmy and Lock 12 Marina owner Ray Faville have both said they will not be opening their marinas next summer, citing the increasing loss of business due to the availability of free boat docking along the Champlain Canal as the main reason for the closing of their docks.
“We have put so much money into these businesses and we are not seeing any of it coming back,” said Elmy. “Ray has been fighting this fight since 2002. The point is that this is unfair competition no matter how you look at it, and we just cannot compete with free docking and electricity.”
“After 25 years of putting blood, sweat and tears into this business it’s tragic that in the end, it is my tax dollars that are going to put me out of business,” said Faville. “This is the state that I live in and have worked hard to build a business in, and it ends up that it has hurt me to the point where I can’t make a living anymore.”
Both owners said the biggest problem they have is that the New York State Canal Corp. will not change its stance on having a free wall in Whitehall, where boaters can tie up for as long as 48 hours and have access to electricity on the docks and showering stations inside the Skenesborough Canal Park Pavilion.
“If you look at the Canal Corporation’s by-laws, these sites were created to help those towns that needed them thrive,” said Elmy. “The problem here is that we have a unique situation because we are not on the canal, we are on the end of the Lake.”
“When this started several years ago, I told them that there was going to be an issue with these marinas,” said Faville. “This isn’t rocket science – it’s wrong and financially; we’re both being harmed by this situation to the point where we will no longer be in business.”
“The Canal Corp. maintains walls and docks throughout the Canal System that are free for public use (for up to 48 hours) and are located near private marinas,” said Richard Harris, deputy director of community development and land management at the Canal Corp. “Some of those locations include a Visitors Center or other amenity, such as park/picnicking, rest rooms/showers, beach/recreational area, amusement park, etc. These locations include Waterford, Schuylerville, Crescent/Halfmoon, Plattsburgh, Port Henry, Sylvan Beach, Verona Beach, Syracuse, Amherst, Greece, Gasport and Lockport.”
Faville said the problem lies more with the state than with the town of Whitehall.
“I understand where the town is coming from because they are being forced by the state to give the electricity,” said Faville. “But that irreparably hurts our businesses. We have to be able to make money. We all know that the economy is bad, and compound that with the free wall and neither of us are going to be able to make it past this winter.”
“They are advertising all over that they have these free walls with electricity and there is no way that we can compete with that,” said Elmy, who went to the town board asking for the town to stop paying for the electricity that is given to boaters along the canal.
At the Sept. 8 meeting, Town Supervisor Richard “Geezer” Gordon said the board would bring the matter to resolution at the beginning of next year.
“For now, we are going to stay the same for the rest of the season,” said Gordon. “We will look at getting the meters in here beginning next year.”
“The Canal Corporation-owned wall in Whitehall near the Visitors Center was first installed by the State of New York in 1912, and has been used for commercial and recreational use since that time,” said Harris. “The existing water and electric services were installed by the Corporation in 2000-2001, with the bills for water and electric usage by vessels at the wall paid for by the Town of Whitehall. It is the Corporation’s understanding that the Town may relinquish this responsibility next season.”
Tricia Elmy said she and her husband were concerned about Gordon’s statements that he could not comment on the matter because he had an interest in canal-front property.
“He had said on television that they were going to come to a resolution as a town board and then said at the meeting that they were going to table the matter,” said Elmy. “His comments put him in conflict if he is right.”
“As a board, we felt it would be better to wait until we found out some more things before we brought the matter up to a vote,” said Gordon, who added that the potential move from the Pavilion to a new town office was part of the reasoning behind the tabling of the matter.
Gordon added that while he no longer is the controlling owner of the Liberty Eatery along the canal, he still has an interest in canal-front property and would not be able to vote on any measure like this.
Both marina owners said that they will be closing all of their facilities before the next boating season if things did not change.
“I used to have 20 employees working here,” said Faville. “Now I am down to eight. This will be the first time ever that I will not have the restaurant (Finch and Chubb) open in the winter months, and as of right now, at the end of October I am closing the whole thing.”
“We do have some winterizing that we will be doing for boats, but after that we will no longer be open for business, including the restaurant (Sea Harbor Tavern) and the RV park.”
Elmy said he is concerned that there will be problems for travelers if both he and Faville close their doors.
“What will happen for the boaters if both of us shut down,” said Elmy. “If anything is going to cause a problem, it is going to be the dump-out situation for waste. If you’re boating and your (bathroom) fills up, then you don’t have too many choices.”
In the end, both owners said that unless something changes to give them more of a competitive balance with the canal wall, then closing their doors would continue to be the only option for both.
“I would like to think that something is going to happen,” said Elmy. “But as I have said, in the end you just can’t be in business trying to compete with free.”
“The Canal Corporation has offered to meet with the marina owners and the Town to discuss the future use of the wall and Visitors Center, and discuss how to partner to enhance and improve revitalization efforts in Whitehall,” said Harris.