BOISE – As demand grows for boat moorage on North Idaho lakes, the state is struggling with outdated rules governing how marinas and docks can operate over the state-owned lakebeds.
Members of the state Land Board indicated they were surprised and concerned last year when told of rumors that some marina owners wanted to sell “dock-o-miniums” to boat slip users when the state owns the lakes and merely leases space on them to marinas. But some variations of that approach, with users buying rights to boat slips, already are in use on Idaho lakes.
Now, the state Lands Department is starting to negotiate new rules governing lake leases, docks, community docks and commercial marinas – and determine whether marina or dock operators can “sell” individual boat slips rather than rent them out.
“Our rules are really silent on that issue, and we want to address that so that it’s clear exactly where the department stands,” said Mike Murphy, bureau chief for surface and mineral resources for the Lands Department.
One thing is clear: True “dock-o-miniums” like those sold in some states, including Florida and New York, can’t happen in Idaho because the submerged land under the docks belongs to the state. That means marina owners can’t divide it up and sell it outright to boat-slip users.
But, Murphy said, “With the increased property values on the waterfront … we’re getting a lot of interest from the commercial marina owners saying, ‘We’d like to take a look at this to recover our money,’ and we’re taking a look at this to see if it can work.”
An initial draft of new rules, which will be up for public input and negotiation in the coming months, would allow a commercial marina to restrict up to half its boat slips to those who purchase a membership, a nearby parcel of property or a boat slip, as long as the rest of the slips remain open to the public. However, the arrangement could last only as long as the marina’s lease with the state.
“It would allow a relationship between two parties knowing full well that there’s a 10-year submerged land lease,” Murphy said. “We just want to make sure that there’s full disclosure on that. In the end … somebody (is) paying their moorage upfront instead of spreading it out over a period of time.”
That’s not exactly how it works at Coeur d’Alene’s 11th Street Marina near Tubbs Hill, which six years ago went to a cooperative ownership plan. The marina is operated by a nonprofit association. Members of the association buy an interest in one or more of its 113 boat slips, which they can then use themselves or rent out.
“The association as a whole owns that physical property that floats on the state’s water,” said Chad Dodson, a Coeur d’Alene architect and a board member of the association. “We share the costs together and pay annual dues to cover those costs.”
Dodson’s extended family owns shares in five boat slips at the marina; it uses three and rents out two. “As property values and lakefront marina values go up, and (Coeur d’Alene Resort Marina owner Duane) Hagadone increases his rental fees to the public, what we have, our stakehold, becomes more valuable,” Dodson said. “But the important thing is that as members, we can kind of control our own destiny from the sense of fees and amenities.”
That includes an upcoming work party, at which owners will perform repairs on the 11th Street Marina to keep costs down.
“We’re not a bunch of rich snobs. … I was born and raised here, I live in the local economy, I work in the local economy,” Dodson said. “This is a great way for me – because I can’t afford a $2 million lake property – to kind of have a stake in something by the lake.”
The 11th Street Marina is not unique. The Panhandle Yacht Club near Arrow Point is a member-operated marina with 112 sailboat slips that has operated since 1978. The club’s Web site notes, “To become a member, you purchase or rent a slip.”
Dodson said his marina association recognizes that it has a lease with the state that is renewed every 10 years – no different than other commercial marinas. The 11th Street Marina has been in existence since the 1920s.
People who invest in memberships, which start at $45,000 depending on the size of slip, know they don’t own the lakebed, he said. “If you look at it as an investment, you are taking that risk. It’s the same risk that Hagadone is taking,” Dodson said.
Other proposed changes in the dock, lease and marina rules include raising the one-time fee for a new dock permit to $250, up from $50; updating definitions; and clarifying rules for float-home sanitation, dredging of channels, and more.
A series of open houses will start the discussion of the new rules, including sessions in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint later this month. In June, negotiated rule-making sessions will start, and people can suggest changes in the draft rules or make other proposals.
The initial draft is a starting point, said Murphy of the Lands Department. “We fully expect it will change significantly over the course of the summer.”
The Land Board, which agreed unanimously last month to proceed with the negotiated rule-making process, then would review the final rules and submit them to the Legislature for approval next year.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said the board’s interest is governed by the public trust doctrine – that the state-owned lakes are held in trust for use by the public. He said he’s not yet ready to weigh in on how the rules should change.
“The negotiated rule-making process gathers the respective parties that may have an interest, and they try to hammer out by agreement some set of rules that will apply. And ultimately, that matter will come before the board,” Wasden said. At that point, he said, “I’ll have a better idea of where we should go.”