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Municipal Marina feuds with non-marina boaters


The Vero Beach Municipal Marina, which “prides itself on being a center for maritime information and hospitality for over 3,000 visiting boats each year,” isn’t showing much love to one segment of the local boating community.

Boaters who live year-round on their vessels – typically 30- to 40-foot sailboats, anchored legally in the Indian River Lagoon, within city limits but outside the marina – complain they are being treated unfairly.

According to several of these boaters, a Vero city ordinance that prohibits docking or tying up on city property anywhere “except at the city marina” leaves them very few legal locations to land the dinghies they use to get to shore.

“I don’t understand the city’s attitude,” said Greg Husak, who lives aboard a 36-foot sailboat in the lagoon. “We’re not a nuisance. Our boats are our homes, and our dinghies are like our cars. They are our transportation. People leave their cars on city property for a lot longer than we leave our dinghies.

“They don’t seem to have problems with kayaks. There are even places to lock up your bicycle. It’s public property. And we’re generally gone for only few hours. We’re not storing the dinghy or abandoning it.”

Ryan Newkirk, who lives aboard the 41-foot ketch Wonderlust,  agreed.  “By trying to eliminate our access to city-owned property,” Newkirk said, Vero  is making it clear “they basically don’t want us here.”

Husak, Newkirk and their friends have the option of tying up at the Municipal Marina, where they can board the free GoLine bus to the mainland which stops there several times a day, but there is a $20 charge to moor their dinghies at the marina.

“Twenty dollars to catch a bus?” Newkirk shakes his head.

By contrast, a spokesperson for the Fort Pierce City Marina says dinghies can dock for free, in order to get water, use the restrooms or, for $7.50 a person, use the shower.

Marina Director Sean Collins says there are a dozen or more live-aboard boats moored in city waters outside the marina, and that the city is concerned about the possibility of unlawful waste dumping by those boaters.

But Newkirk, Husak and their friends say they abide by state waste disposal regulations and have on-board equipment that properly handles waste – though they admit to seeing other live-aboard boaters dump waste illegally, even though the marina offers pump-outs for only $5. 

Florida Fish and Wildlife conducts random checks for waste law compliance, boarding vessels unannounced, including those in and outside the marina, and the live-aboard boaters said they understand the need to police the waterway. 

But they say their vessels are boarded too frequently, to an extent that borders on harassment.

“During COVID, FWC officers boarded my boat, my home, my personal space, twice, with no mask, with total disregard for public health and safety,” said another boater who asked that his name not be used. 

“In the Keys, they check you [for proper waste disposal] once a year and give you a sticker.”

Vero Beach Mayor Robert Brackett says the city has other concerns besides waste dumping.

The ordinance limiting moorings, he said, is in place to “maintain control of where any boats, not only dinghies, land. If you have one boat somewhere, then pretty soon you have 30.”

In addition, Brackett says the city receives regular complaints about dinghies, most often from Vero Isles, a community of single-street peninsulas separated by deep-water canals on the west side of river.

Residents are concerned about boaters frequently leaving their vessels tied up in the mangroves along these private canals or the adjacent AW Young Park, and then “going to Publix.”

The simmering conflict between the city and the live-aboard boaters turned contentious on Sunday when Husak went to the marina and requested a pump out.

He says he was refused, given no explanation and treated rudely. According to Husak, he asked the marina attendant: “If you won’t give me a pump out what should I do, just dump it in the river?” 

The marina attendant allegedly responded, “If you do, I’ll call the FWC.”

Husak says he has patronized local restaurants and stores, and spent plenty of money in Vero Beach when he managed to get ashore since arriving in December.

But now, he said, he has had enough of Vero’s hostility and plans to up anchor and relocate to Fort Pierce.