By Tim Cox
Mercer County is going into the marina business.
County commissioners on Thursday agreed to pay $20,000 to acquire a stand of boat docks from Ohio Marine that are located along the county-owned 4-H camp. The purchase avoids a potential lawsuit against the marina because county officials were unhappy with the placement of the docks.
The county has not yet set prices for the docks, which will be leased seasonally. Depending on the size of the boats, the county could have dock space for up to two dozen or so vessels.
The negotiated settlement ends a long-running disagreement over the placement of the docks, part of which are built within three feet or so of the shoreline at the 4-H camp.
Following up on noise complaints from a neighbor at Harbor Point about a year ago, county officials found several houseboats docked there. The boat owners had built ramps connecting the docks to the county land, had constructed a makeshift party deck and had a fire ring located on camp property. The group also was using a sewer tap at the 4-H campground. Commissioners deemed it not only an improper use of county land, but said the squatters also were creating liability issues for the county.
After investigating the issue, county officials learned of a court case regarding waterfront property rights on Indian Lake in Logan County. In that case, the judge essentially ruled property owners have the right to access navigable waterways along their property.
"It has been held that a riparian owner has the right to have the flow come to his land and to make reasonable use thereof and not to interfere with the rights of others to use it in a particular fashion," Judge Mark S. O'Connor wrote in the 1992 ruling. "The right to navigate to one's property would likewise be a reasonable use of such a property, and such use should not interfere with another's use."
The case ruling meant Mercer County should have "unfettered and unobstructed access" to its waterfront, county Prosecuting Attorney Andy Hinders said.
Hinders negotiated the deal with Ohio Marine owner Kevin Korbit and Korbit's lawyer.
"They were making money on boat docks in front of our property while we weren't getting anything from it," said Commissioner Jerry Laffin, adding that county officials were prepared to fight the issue in court if necessary.
But Laffin said he was happy the sides could reach an agreement without going through the time, expense and public scrutiny of a court case.
Commissioners have not set rates for rental of the docks. They will compare prices with other public and private marinas before setting those fees, Laffin said. County officials do not want to undercut the prices of private businesses but also want to have competitive prices, he said.
County officials passed a resolution that earmarks revenue from the boat docks to go toward renovations at the aging 4-H campground. The campground, parts of which date to before World War II, needs $75,000 or more in major improvements in the coming years.
"Our intention is the money from the lease of the docks will go to pay back the $20,000 and then be used for renovations to the 4-H facility," Laffin said.