Alderman Ross Arnett has withdrawn a resolution that waived docking fees for a weekend boat race. City officials, including Arnett, learned that resolution could have cost the city $2 million in grant funding.
Alderman Ross Arnett has withdrawn a resolution that waived docking fees for a weekend boat race. City officials, including Arnett, learned that resolution could have cost the city $2 million in grant funding. (Capital Gazette / File photo)

The City Council withdrew legislation at a special meeting Thursday that would have waived docking fees for an upcoming wooden boat festival, helping the city avoid losing $2 million in federal grant funding.

The resolution’s sponsor, Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, made a motion to withdraw R-40-19, which would have waived docking fees for participants in this weekend’s Classic Wooden Sailboat Rendezvous and Race to be held Saturday and Sunday at City Dock.

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The event’s organizer, the Annapolis Waterfront and Sailing Center, needed to know much sooner whether their participants would have to pay docking fees or not.

“The resolution is moot,” Arnett said.

The council approved the legislation by a 7-1 vote Sept. 9 to waive fees for the festival participants. City manager Teresa Sutherland then reminded the council that the resolution was in violation of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule passed in 2006.

The rule, updated in 2015, says the city must either waive docking fees for all boats, or none of them, or risk losing $2 million in grant funding. Mayor Gavin Buckley called a motion at the Sept. 9 meeting to reconsider the legislation which passed and resolve the issue at Thursday’s special meeting.

“I didn’t realize Monday evening that they really needed the answer then,” Arnett said. “By postponing it we essentially killed it.”

There are 18 boats still signed up for the event held over Saturday and Sunday, said organizer Lee Tawney.

Some will be docked at a state-owned portion of the dock, but the rest will have to dock elsewhere, Tawney said.

Arnett said he plans to meet with the mayor and the city’s office of law to explore ways of remedying the docking fee issue.

“We have to have control of our own city dock. It’s absurd,” Arnett said. “We basically sold the City Dock for $2 million to Wildlife and Fisheries. We just can’t have it.”

This is not the first time DNR has notified the city of rules relating to the renovated dock.

In September 2018, the department denied the city’s request to allow the Stanley Norman, a skipjack owned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, to dock at City Dock for part of the year. DNR reasoned that the boat was neither recreational — operated for non-commercial purposes — or transient — expected to stay for 14 days or less, two requirements for boats to legally dock there, according to a September 2018 letter to the city by DNR Chesapeake and Coastal Service Director Matthew Fleming.

The Stanley Norman had been leasing space on City Dock since at least 2013. Had DNR been aware, a $1.5 million grant might not have been awarded to the city, Fleming wrote.

“Had you not discovered and reported this ineligible usage," he wrote, “the City may have eventually been required to return the entire amount of the grant funding as per the terms and conditions of the (land control agreement).”

Arnett said ships like the Stanley Norman and the Pride of Baltimore II must be allowed to come to City Dock and it could take discussions at the state level to fix the issue.

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"We can’t have it that no ships can come in,” Arnett said. “That’s about all I can say about it right now. We’ll probably have to go to much higher levels.”

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