County To Charge Del. Customers For Boat Ramp Use

SNOW HILL – The county is moving forward with plans to charge out-of-state patrons parking fees at the Shell Mill boat ramp.

The Worcester County Commissioners this week voted 4-2 to approve a pilot program that will charge out-of-state visitors a $10 daily parking fee at Bishopville’s Shell Mill boat ramp.

“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said. “It’s a problem there.”

Kelly Rados, the county’s director of recreation and parks, initially talked to the commissioners about the concept of parking fees at the Shell Mill ramp last month. She returned this week with a revised proposal for a pilot parking program at the busy Bishopville boat ramp.

“This would be to charge just out-of -state patrons to park,” she said. “Due to its proximity to Delaware, Shell Mill experiences a high out of state use with our boat ramps. A pilot program would give us the ability to evaluate and adjust as needed before implementing at our other boat facilities in the future if that’s what is decided.”

She said the county planned to use the ParkMobile program or a similar parking service to charge out-of-state patrons $10 a day to park at the boat ramp. The fee would be for any vehicles parking in the lot that do not have a Maryland license plate.

“This is the maximum amount that can be charged due to grant funding we receive at the boat landings,” she said. “Of this fee the county would generate $9.15 in revenue per user.”

She said ParkMobile would help install signage and that using the program would eliminate the need to sell parking passes.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic voiced objections to the proposal.

“I think what’s going to happen is we’re going to push these boat ramp users to our other boat ramps throughout the county…,” he said. “I understand Mr. Bunting doesn’t care where it pushes them to as long as it’s not in his backyard but we also need to, we need to think about our other boat ramps throughout the county and what this is going to do as far as traffic. If we’re going to do it we need to do it for all the boat ramps.”

Commissioner Eric Fiori said he disagreed. He said parking lots at the ramps were full by 9 a.m. on a Saturday and that boaters couldn’t simply leave and go to another ramp if they didn’t want to pay the fee.

“Also I believe Sussex County is building about 4,500 homes currently,” he said. “That pressure on our systems here in Maryland is great. Delaware unfortunately has not kept up with their residential growth so their access to water is very limited.”

He said one of the boat dealerships he owned was in Sussex County and he saw firsthand how limited the water access was there.

“Our surrounding states, Virginia and Delaware, charge fees for their facilities,” he said. “I think we should as well.”

Commissioner Ted Elder said that if the lots at the ramp were as full as Fiori said, the parking fee wouldn’t alleviate any parking problems.

“If they continue to go to that boat ramp, we’ll get $10 out of it I guess but it’s not going to alleviate any problems with parking along the road,” he said.

Elder echoed Mitrecic’s concern that boaters would just start frequenting other county ramps to avoid the fee.

Bunting said the county had to start to address the issue somewhere. He added that data from Shell Mill could show officials just how many boat ramp users were coming from out of state.

“It is a pilot program,” Commissioner Caryn Abbott agreed. “I think it’s a good start and it’ll give us a lot of food fata that we can possibly use in the rest of the county.”

Commissioner Diana Purnell asked if the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office would be able to handle enforcement.

Rados said they already patrolled the boat ramps. She added that because there were more weekend events than ever before her department typically had staff working and they could also help patrol Shell Mill.

“That’s why we’re trying to do it as a pilot program, so we’re not designating all these staff and this funding to it before we can try it out,” she said.

Fiori said he’d spoken with the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and that staff there had no problems with the proposal.

“They have no issue with continuing to patrol the boat ramps and enforce this particular change,” he said. “This is a pilot program. We really want to give it a shot and see if it works well. I think it’s a great fit for the county.”

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked how the issue of parking along the road around the boat ramp would be addressed. Staff said public works could add signs to prohibit parking.

The commissioners voted 4-2, with Mitrecic and Elder opposed and Purnell abstaining, to approve the pilot program.

Rados said the next step in the process would be working with the county’s attorney to make necessary code changes and with the procurement officer to get ParkMobile or something similar. As the service is being implemented, something she expects to take about six weeks, the county will get the Shell Mill lot striped to clearly define where parking is permitted.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.