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No decision yet on Absecon boat-ramp fees
By DEREK HARPER Staff Writer, (609) 272-7203

ABSECON - The men were clustered together by the dock in the cool wind on a clear day that stood just on the cusp of the region's boating season.

In just a few months, the mostly empty parking lot will be filled with people taking advantage of Absecon's boat ramp. But whether they will pay to park there is still unclear.

After the City Council voted to give back more than $20,000 in boat-ramp parking fees in December, officials say they want to get state approval before they try to ratify any more fees.

But since Sunday, there was no word from the state, said councilwoman Lynn Caterson. So, consequently, there are no fees.

"I don't know what they are going to do," said Ed Ireland, one of the seven men who wore hooded sweatshirts and sunglasses to battle the chill and glare. He has a Proline 20-foot boat he keeps at a dock up the creek. It is too soon for him to get in the water, but he knows some people get in when they can.

Across the parking lot, a lone black pickup truck sat with an empty boat trailer. A red boat-ramp parking sticker from last year was visible on the rearview mirror.

"There are some die-hards out there," Ireland said, gesturing across the lot. "They do go out."

The consensus was that the empty truck and trailer belonged to a clammer, who was making hard-earned money on the cold bay.

Ireland said he wasn't opposed to the fees, which are used to take care of maintenance. "It sounded good when they were talking about it," he said.

But he doesn't know what will happen next. He heard boaters were getting their parking money back, but he didn't know any who did yet.

"My brother-in-law George got his (parking fee) back," one of the men said.

If the city does charge fees this year, they will likely be less than what were enacted last year. The city charged residents $25 before March 1 and $50 after to park near the popular ramp on East Faunce Landing Road.

At the same time, it charged nonresidents $75 before March 1 and $125 afterward.

The Absecon Saltwater Sportsmen Club fought those charges from the beginning, saying they were unfair because the city took state Green Acres funding to do the work.

Because they did that, argued President James Van Daley, the ramp should be equally open to all state residents.

"There's not really much (Absecon) can do," he said Sunday afternoon. "The state says they can charge between $15 and $20 a year and $5 a day," he said.

Daley said he wasn't against the fees, as long as they are modest and keep the boat-ramp area in good condition.

But he and the club objected to the steeper ones, which he said were discriminatory toward non-Absecon residents.

He says he looks forward to working with the city as it works on the new rates for 2004 - as long as everyone gets a shot at the water.

"It think that's only fair," he said. "If they had done that from the beginning, there wouldn't be any problem."
 
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