OCEAN CITY — Until the insurance issue gets resolved, any debate about the Ayres Creek kayak venture is going to look and sound like paddling in circles.
The debate concerning the Ayres Creek kayak venture was revisited on Tuesday at City Hall as Dr. Roman Jesien of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program argued to the City Council the reasoning in the request for the non-profit group to obtain liability insurance for the proposed usage of the old Ocean City dump for a boat launch.
“I got off the phone with our insurance company earlier today, and the underwriters are having a hard time understanding what we want insurance for on a property we don’t own, and have no vested interest in,” said Jesien. “Likewise, my board is very reluctant to approve an insurance policy such as this for our small organization for this venture.”
At the end of the rather lengthy and at times redundant discussion, the council voted to lease the land to either the Maryland Coastal Bays Program or to Worcester County for $1 a year for the next 25 years, pending proper liability insurance arrangements.
Simply put, the town is willing to allow the bays program to use $47,000 in grant money to improve the former city dump into a kayak boat launch for area outdoor enthusiasts, but they just don’t want the risk of such a venture.
“I think everyone up here has made it clear that we are in favor of doing this, as we voted to allow you to use the land, but our city solicitor has advised us that the insurance issue needs to be worked out,” said Councilman Jim Hall. “As of yesterday, I was told that our insurance people were going to be in contact with your insurance people, and this whole thing was going to be easily worked out.”
Jesien said that the request from the Maryland Coastal Bays is not an “unusual request”, citing hundreds of other areas in the country that have created recreational parks from former landfills.
“We are requesting access for a kayak launch, and a lot of municipalities are doing ventures like this, but typically, those ventures are not asked to cover the liability insurance for these sites. We sell hats and T-shirts and have a staff of six people, so we can’t match your $250,000 deductible, and it’s out of the ordinary for you to ask us to be included in an insurance policy in this venture,” Jesien said.
The site is currently posted as “no trespassing”, but if and seemingly when Maryland Coastal Bays is given the green light to prepare the boat launch and allow people on the site, the town would still be liable if anyone were to get injured.
“The way it’s proposed right now is that Ocean City is just going to open this up and Maryland Coastal Bays is going to construct some sort of boardwalk, boat launch and parking lot up there, but there has been no mention of who is going to maintain it,” said City Solicitor Guy Ayres, “If someone gets hurt, Ocean City is going to get sued. My job is to point out a liability issue here. If some other entity is going to be operating this site, they should just add this property to their insurance claim and assign the town of Ocean City as an additional insurer.”
Ayres said that the town’s taxpayers would be at risk for funding any costs incurred by a claim against the site, as the risk retention policy calls for the town to fit the bill for up to $250,000.
“I would guess that the types of activities that will be going on out there for this kayak venture would not bring a claim to the town that exceeds $250,000, so if there were a claim, the town would incur a cost, and that’s our concern,” said Ayres.
Council President Joe Mitrecic offered up the $1 per year lease, which would make Maryland Coastal Bays a tenant of the property.
“This site is some distance from Ocean City and was really brought to us by the county, and we are willing to be a partner in that, but it was suggested to us that somebody else could cover that insurance,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “We aren’t trying to just pass this off.”
Mitrecic and Ayres cited the town’s usage and maintenance of the county-owned ball field and skate park on 3rd Street as an example of how Worcester County should assume the responsibility and perhaps the liability of this venture.
“Let’s lease it to [Maryland Coastal Bays] or the county for a buck and move forward,” said Mitrecic. “We don’t want any revenue from what you are doing out there, and we are more than happy to let anyone use the property, but we don’t want to assume the risk.”
Despite the council’s vote to approve a $1-a-year lease, the specifics of resolving the insurance liability issue sits solely on the shoulders of the insurance companies, and seemingly is out of the hands of the council or the bays program.
“I firmly believe that if we really want to do this, we need to get someone out there to maintain the property, lease the property for a dollar, have someone assume the liability so town won’t have to worry about that part of it, and then we can all benefit from this venture,” said Councilman Lloyd Martin.