SNOW HILL – County officials approved a local boat captain’s request to use the South Point boat ramp for his bowfishing charter business.
The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday voted 6-1 to allow Marc Spagnola to use the South Point boat ramp to take fishing customers out.
“I think this gentleman’s use of it is low impact,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.
Attorney Mark Cropper told the commissioners that while Spagnola had initially asked the commissioners to use the ramp in 2019 and had been denied, he believed there were some misunderstandings regarding the proposal.
Cropper said that all Spagnola wanted to do was use the South Point ramp to put his boat in the water so he could take clients fishing.
“He can do that today, every single day, 10 times a day, as long as nobody gives him a dollar at the end,” Cropper said.
Because Spagnola does get paid, he can’t use the recreational ramp to put his 20-foot boat in the water. Cropper said he was asking the commissioners to give Spagnola a special use permit that would allow him to use the ramp. He added that marine contractors were already using it for commercial purposes.
“There are multiple marine contractors that regularly use the South Point boat ramp as a staging area,” he said. “I’m not here to pick on them. Quite honestly I don’t know how they’d do it otherwise.”
He said that if Spagnola used the ramp at the commercial harbor, he’d have to travel more than 12 miles to the area where he fishes.
“I have to be away from people to do my activity,” said Spagnola. “I pretty much stay where there’s nobody really at. That is between South Point ramp and down to the Virginia line.”
Cropper said a special use permit would let Spagnola put his boat in the water at the South Point ramp. He said if the commissioners were concerned about opening Pandora’s box, they could consider each similar request on its own merits.
“What I’d hope you wouldn’t do is deny this request for Mr. Spagnola who’s trying to do this the right way out of fear that maybe somebody after today may come forward with a similar request,” Cropper said. “I say judge each request on its merit.”
Commissioner Chip Bertino said opening Pandora’s box was a legitimate concern.
“We’re setting precedent,” he said. “It’s not just the South Point ramp that would be affected. We have other ramps throughout the county…You’re saying you don’t think we should look at it as what would happen in the future, well I think we ought to and we should.”
Commissioner Jim Bunting also voiced objections to the proposal.
“I’ve been here for 10 years and we’ve worked hard to keep our boat ramps for public use, for recreational use,” he said. “Not for any type of commercial use.”
He added that the county had other issues with its boat ramps, such as the fact that they were overused by out of state residents. He agreed that the issue of marine contractors using the areas and putting wear and tear on infrastructure was a problem as well.
“They’re costing the county money,” he said.
When asked if Spagnola had used the ramp for his business in the past, Cropper said he had and that was why he was there making the permit request. He said a resident near the ramp would call the county office and the sheriff’s office every time he saw Spagnola’s boat at the ramp.
“He doesn’t want quite honestly to continue that relationship with the county or the sheriff’s office,” Cropper said. “He wants to do it the right way which is why I’m here.”
He suggested the commissioners let Spagnola have a permit for one year to see how it went.
Mitrecic voiced support for the request.
“The only thing I’ll say is this happens at each of our boat ramps every day,” he said. “We just have a watchdog that has an issue with Mr. Spagnola down at the South Point boat ramp. You can go to commercial harbor, you can go to any of them and you’re going to have these types of operations go on. This gentleman just happens to be one that wants to ask for permission due to the fact he has a watchdog that keeps an eye on him there.”
Bertino said he thought a one-year permit did protect the county in the event there was a problem but objected to Mitrecic’ s comments.
“You’re talking about this particular neighbor as if they’re doing something wrong,” he said. “They’re not. We have laws on the books and I don’t think it’s wrong for somebody to point out when those laws are not followed… We have enough problems with people not following the laws of this county.”
The commissioners voted 6-1, with Bunting opposed, to grant Spagnola a permit for one year and to have staff work on creating some guidelines that could be put in place for future permit requests.