Background - The San Diego Unified Port District has applied for and received from the California Department of Boating and Waterways, grant funds in the amount of approximately $1.4 million for the refurbishment of the Shelter Island Launch Ramp. According to the Port, this project will consist primarily of: refurbishment/resurfacing of the ramp surface, adjustment of the ramp’s slope, replacement of one existing courtesy dock and relocation of the existing wheelchair accessible ramp. Contingent on permit approvals, the project is targeted to begin in January of 2007, and take an estimated three months for completion.
I applaud the Port District for undertaking the effort to improve the Shelter Island launch ramp facilities and appreciate their cooperation in scheduling a public meeting to describe their plans, and willingness to accept and consider public input which could potentially impact their schedule and plans.
My involvement in this matter is two-fold. As the former manager of the San Diego City Lakes Program, I was involved in the design and grant application process for launch ramp facilities at eight city reservoirs with project costs in excess of $14 million and provided free consultation to other agencies involved in launch ramp and boating facility development on numerous occasions. According to representatives of the Department of Boating and Waterways, I have been involved with them in the construction of more boat launch ramps in California than any other individual, and in 2003 received their “Distinguished Public Service Award for Outstanding Achievement in Serving the Needs of the Boaters of Southern California.”
In addition to my professional background, I have been involved in fishing and boating all of my life and feel a personal commitment to the fishing and boating community, including the wise use of the limited funds available for the development of fishing and boating services and facilities.
Concerns - Despite their sincere best intentions, I believe the Port has failed to recognize the importance of the Shelter Island Launch Ramp or its significance to members of the fishing and boating communities and the myriad of businesses they support. Subject to input they have, or will receive from the public, as well as the Department of Boating and Waterways, I believe the Port should re-evaluate its current plans in terms of the scope of the planned project and the hardships that will result from a construction closure. To wit:
1. The Shelter Island Launch Ramp facility was built in the mid-1950’s. As California’s southernmost gateway to the Pacific Ocean, the coastal waters of Southern California and Mexico, it is arguably the most utilized and most important launch ramp in this region, and has not been enlarged or appreciably improved for roughly 50 years.
2. The planned improvements are primarily cosmetic or maintenance oriented improvements of a functioning facility. Most observers and users of the facility recognize that the Shelter Island Launch Ramp facility needs to be substantially enlarged and improved to meet the needs of greater numbers of boaters and larger boats than were the norm 50 years ago.
3. The California Department of Boating and Waterways has advised that if the Port will hold off on their current plans, that they would encourage a re-scoping and grant funding of expansion of the existing Shelter Island Launch Ramp facility, including the depth and most importantly the overall size of the basin which is now hazardous during low tides and heavy use periods.
4. Under the Port’s current plan projections, the Shelter Island Launch Ramp will be closed for an estimated 90 days, beginning in January. My experience is that most construction projects of this nature start later and take longer than are typically anticipated. In addition to being an unnecessary hardship on the boating and fishing community which uses the Shelter Island ramp, this will result in additional fuel costs and inconvenience as anglers are forced to use the National City launch facility in order to access the bay/ocean during peak periods for rockfish, halibut, bay bass and lobster. A delay in the start date or construction, could easily lapse into the productive spring period of bay and offshore fishing.
5. Personally, I would accept the inconvenience as a boater and loss of commerce as a business owner (which I am not) from closure of the ramp, if the result was a significantly improved facility that would serve the public well into the future and without additional disruptions. Unfortunately that is not the case here.
6. If completed as planned, the scheduled improvements would likely delay future efforts to meaningfully improve this facility or in some instances be destroyed when such necessary improvements as expanding the basin are made.
Recommendation - Officials of the Port District and the Department of Boating and Waterways are now well aware of the concerns identified here and have invariably been cooperative and professional in my dealings with them. The latter agency has agreed to absorb all costs to date and provide substantially more funding for boating related improvements should the Port desire to withdraw the current proposal in favor of more significant facility improvements. Although improvements would be delayed for two years, the funding could increase from the current $1.4 million to as much as three and four times that amount based on informal discussions regarding more meaningful improvements.
Based upon my past professional experience and voluntary involvement and investigation in the current project, it is my recommendation that:
1. The Port of San Diego accept the Department of Boating and Waterways’ offer to absorb all costs to date and either rescind or amend the current grant request and contract in favor of a more comprehensive project that entails greater input from the boating community;
2. A primary emphasis be placed on expansion of the boat basin to better accommodate the increase in trailer boat registrations and average size of trailered boats since development of the facility approximately 50 years ago;
3. Every effort be made to stage any construction to allow at least a portion of the ramp to be open at all times, rather than to close the facility entirely.
Summary - These are my observations and recommendations and are not intended to represent any other individual or organization. If you are a boater, recreational or commercial angler, business owner or any other individual or entity with a stake in the Shelter Island Launch Ramp, I encourage you to review this subject, formulate your own opinions and express them at this public meeting. If you cannot attend the meeting, but would like your opinion to be heard, feel free to send them to me (email recommended, address above) and I will be pleased to pass them along, regardless of whether they support or are contradictory to my concerns and recommendations.
The San Diego Unified Port District and the California Department of Boating and Waterways are public agencies with a responsibility to hear your concerns and attempt to serve your needs. The grant funds involved are your funds and are derived primarily from tax on boat fuel that is earmarked to provide you with boating facilities, services and education.
Both agencies genuinely want to hear from you in order to better serve your boating needs. If you have opinions or concerns about the information provided here, you are encouraged to provide them.
Jim Brown Reply to Sportnlyf@aol.com or contact me at 858 442-7421