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Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Council OKs reinstallation of boat cleats


By William Kincaid
CELINA - City council members on Monday night took immediate action authorizing a lakeside business owner to reinstall boat cleats along the seawall that city administrators ordered to be removed about a month ago.
The move was made at the request of Julie Fleck, owner of Bella's Italian Grille on West Bank Road, who said she needs to secure access for boaters during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, one of the restaurant's busiest times of the year.
Mayor Jeff Hazel said letters were issued about a month ago to roughly seven business and property owners along West Bank Road notifying them that all past agreements permitting boat cleats were null and void.
Property owners had installed the cleats on wooden panels alongside the city's new walkway to allow boaters to secure their vessels while patronizing businesses. City officials came to a compromise in the summer of 2015, temporarily sanctioning boat cleats while property owners awaited the installation of new docks.
Now that most of the planned 32 new docks have been put into place, administrators felt the property owners no longer needed to use boat cleats, according to Hazel.
However, a dock to be placed near Bella's and West Bank Inn is still about six weeks out, city safety service director Tom Hitchcock said. Fleck addressed councilors on Monday night, telling them she needs to have a way for boaters to park their vessels in front of her business.
"It is now coming up on one of the busiest weekends, we hope, of the summer and I still do not have access (for boaters)," Fleck said.
Councilman Mike Sovinski said permitting boat cleats is the most timely way to address Fleck's needs.
Council president Jason King pressed his colleagues to take immediate action in light of the circumstances. Sovinski made a motion directing city administrators to allow the placement of boat cleats along the walkway in a manner and duration as they see fit. It was then unanimously approved.
Fleck agreed to assume all liability for using the boat cleats. Any harm to the walkway, boats or people will be assessed to the business.
Fleck said Bella's Italian Grille, which has been in operation for 18 years, 15 at its current location, used to have 14 fingers or boat dock spaces in front of the restaurant. The docks were damaged by ice and eventually removed, she said.
In the summer of 2015, city officials came to an agreement with lakeside business owners wanting to use boat cleats.
Fleck said the city sent her a letter about a month ago indicating that the agreement was no longer valid. No warning or discussion of the matter occurred, she said, adding she hopes it was more of an oversight than the city failing to communicate in a businesslike manner.
"But the fact remains that Bella's and West Bank Inn are businesses on the lake, and we rely heavily on summer business and especially access from boaters to be able to get to us in a very close vicinity to our buildings," she said.
She said a state official has told her boat cleats are used on the Grand Lake's east bank, especially around marinas.
Lake businesses need as much support as possible, she said, noting her restaurant would take a big hit if it doesn't have a way to allow boaters to tie their vessels up for a few hours to dine inside.
Councilman Fred LeJeune asked about concerns of a rock jetty under the water along the seawall near Bella's.
Fleck insisted that no rocks are in the water in front of her restaurant while councilman Jeff Larmore said a state-approved blueprint shows otherwise.
"The main reason why we ended up with a stone jetty was because of wave action of tearing up the piers," Larmore said. "If it's not there, it should have been there."
He also made it clear that he doesn't like the idea of boat cleats being installed on a taxpayer-funded walkway. Furthermore, he commented on the potential for boat damage and personal injury.
"I just can't go along with putting cleats in a board that's only an inch and a half wide that's going to tear off," he said.
Previous city officials committed to replacing at least 21 boat docks that were removed from north of the spillway several years ago in preparation of the walkway's construction.
"The only written documentation we have was with the 21 business and property owners down there that we had letters sent out to and said we owed them docks for removing their fishing piers," Hitchcock said.
Neither Bella's nor West Bank Inn was on the list, he said.
However, a boat dock is slated to be installed near the two businesses that will have four fingers, according to Hazel.
In 2006, city officials signed a 25-year lease agreement with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for the construction of the walkway that stipulated the city own and maintain all docks.
Shinn Brothers, the sole bidder, was awarded a $114,900 contract last year by the city's board of control - Hazel, Hitchcock and city auditor Betty Strawn - to build floating docks. The project's cost will be paid with the $1.285 million from the state capital budget bill awarded to Celina in 2014 to develop three softball fields at Westview Park and to complete the walkway.
Property owners who had a dock removed before the walkway construction had the first chance to lease it, Hazel said. He is not sure how many spaces have been leased so far this year.
Annual dock fees are $330 a slip, which will then be sent onto the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, according to Hazel.
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