Banta plans to form authority, take over North East Marina from Fish & Boat Commission

NORTH EAST — State Rep. Jake Banta wants the borough, township and the Fuller Hose Fire Co. to form a municipal authority that would own and operate the North East Marina.

Banta, speaking at back-to-back meetings of Borough Council and the Board of Supervisors Monday, urged the public bodies to move quickly in order to keep the marina fully operational in 2024.

The current owner, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, announced plans in July to close the 220 private boat slips next year to avoid dredging expenses, which have become so costly under new state regulations that the Fish & Boat Commission plans to launch a study that could help determine the marina's future if no viable alternative emerges.

Reuben Bartholomew, 45, of the Poconos, loads his boat onto a trailer at the North East Marina Thursday, Sept. 15, 2023. Bartholomew was visiting Erie for The Bass Federation's national semifinals competition. The marina, which is facing significant changes due to higher maintenance costs, attracts people from several states each year for fishing. Bartholomew said the marina offers a "beautiful" setting and a safe, "protected launch" for Lake Erie boaters.

More: Banta-led group explores options for North East Marina as state orders boat slips to close

State. Rep. Jake Banta, standing, discusses a proposal to form a municipal authority that would own and operate the North East Marina with residents and members of North East Borough Council on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.
State. Rep. Jake Banta, standing, discusses a proposal to form a municipal authority that would own and operate the North East Marina with residents and members of North East Borough Council on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

'They want out'

Banta and North East resident Dan Adamus, who is also a member of the volunteer company, have been working behind the scenes to develop a plan that would place the marina under local control through a five-member authority.

"They want out of it and we'll take it from them," Banta told Borough Council members, repeatedly calling the marina a "diamond in the rough."

Staff members of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission who are involved in the operations of the North East Marina have recommended the transfer, according to spokesman Mike Parker, but the proposal has not been presented to its board of commissioners, which would ultimately be responsible for approving the transfer.

Borough Councilwoman Heather Jones motioned to advertise for a public hearing on the proposal, contingent on township supervisors doing the same at their later meeting Monday. The motion passed unanimously.

After holding a public hearing, Banta and Adamus want the entities to pass a resolution to form the authority, preferably by year's end. They also want to finalize the bylaws of the authority, which Adamus has already drafted.

'Big risk' to rush

But township officials hit the proverbial pause button Monday evening.

First, township Solicitor Robert Jeffrey said it's solely the duty of the would-be authority board to write its bylaws. Second, he called the idea of a public hearing "premature." Instead, he recommended that the three-member panel appoint someone to begin discussions with the borough on the matter. Supervisor Russ LaFuria was tapped as the board's designee.

Supervisors expressed frustration that they were being asked to move ahead without knowing several details or having anything in writing.

"We don't need another meeting," Supervisor Fred Shunk said. "We need to get something in writing.

"It's a good idea," he said at another point, "but nothing is on paper. Nothing is tangible."

"Shouldn't we know this?" LaFuria said during one exchange with Banta and Adamus.

There are several unanswered questions about the proposal and LaFuria said that without more detail supervisors can't act.

The board agrees with the concept and wants to save the marina, members said, but "I'm not sure you can rush this the way you want us to rush," LaFuria said. "Rushing it like this is a big risk for the people in this room paying taxes."

Banta and Adamus said that neither the borough nor the township or Fuller Hose Co. would have to invest any taxpayer money into the marina. However, Shunk noted that if the authority were to fail financially, the liability would fall back on the entities.

North East resident Dan Adamus, left, and state Rep. Jake Banta, R-4th Dist., address a North East Board of Supervisors meeting about the North East Marina on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.
North East resident Dan Adamus, left, and state Rep. Jake Banta, R-4th Dist., address a North East Board of Supervisors meeting about the North East Marina on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

Different missions

To make the marina financially sustainable, the authority would seek to further develop the 17-acre property by adding another restaurant, creating camp sites, adding another 30 private slips at the docks, among several other revenue generators.

Because the marina is the only such facility of its kind under the guise of the Fish & Boat Commission, and because the agency's mission is limited to providing fishing and boating activities, it has not sought to develop the marina to its full potential, Adamus said.

Not only are there opportunities to increase revenue at the marina, but Adamus and Banta believe an authority could realize significant cost-savings on dredging, addressing sand movement and updating the electrical system because it would not be bound to the same stringent bidding rules as the Fish & Boat Commission.

Using borough and township workers for other capital improvement projects could also lead to savings (the borough and township would be reimbursed), they argue.

Banta and Adamus are also attempting to extract nearly $15 million in deferred maintenance at the marina from the Fish & Boat Commission.

Though Banta has said that the legislature has already approved the funding, it's important to note that past legislatures have allocated funds for specific improvements at the marina but those dollars were never released to the Fish & Boat Commission. No money has been approved for use by the authority Banta wants to create. Adamus and Banta also say that the commission could provide other funding in transferring the marina to the authority.

Though the marina is located in the township, they opted to include the borough in the authority because the facility is an asset to the greater North East community. Fuller Hose Co., they said, is included because it provides services to both the township and borough, and already has a relationship with the marina through its water rescue program. Two community members would also serve on the five-member board.

Other entities were originally part of the proposed authority, including the North East Community Foundation and Chamber of Commerce, but the latter is not a 501c3, which would curtail the authority's ability to obtain grants for the marina.

Adamus and Banta want 2024 to serve as a transition year.

Matthew Rink can be reached at mrink@timesnews.com.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Officials ask Banta for more details on plan to save North East Marina