Boating’s back-room boogie? A cautionary tale

Last August, we met a woman who owns a boat, who was kicked off her mooring – for which she paid more than $2,000 in advance, has anchored her boat nearby since May, and has accrued tens of thousands of dollars in fines while doing nothing wrong.

As if this isn’t bad enough, her name has been besmirched, her character questioned, and local anchoring ordinances bent to her detriment. And all she wants is for someone to do the right thing so she can stop fighting city hall and enjoy the magic of boating.

Since 2014, Jo-Ann “Sunny” Albanese had leased a mooring for her 32-foot Pacemaker from a marina in Mill Cove, in North Kingstown (Wickford), R.I. In 2016, she was told her mooring was no longer available. The marina owner reportedly told her that her mooring was one of four that had to be returned to the town, and that she’d have to go to the end of the 20-year waiting list.

The marina owner, in a letter to the town council, also claimed that Albanese was a nuisance and guilty of “excessive drinking.” In fact, Albanese says she cannot drink alcohol because of two medical conditions, and the owner of a nearby marina confirms her statement.

After Albanese relinquished her mooring, it reportedly was rented out to another recreational boater. At this time, she anchored her boat in Mill Cove. And then the acrimony escalated: A town ordinance was passed to limit anchoring in North Kingstown waters “for a period not to exceed 72 hours,” later amended to 48 hours.

Albanese was then told by the North Kingstown Police Department that she was violating the ordinance, that “a separate summons will be issued for every day a person is found to be in violation.” Albanese’s boat is still anchored in Mill Cove, and, some seven months and 200 days later, she’s looking at a $100,000 fine – because she believes she has a right to anchor in a federal anchorage.

The Town of North Kingston has a long history with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). For decades, the Corps has dredged channels and anchorages, and repaired the breakwaters at the entrance to Wickford Harbor. In return for accepting federal (taxpayer-generated) funds, the Town of North Kingstown has obligations.

In 1997, 2001, 2008 and 2011, USACE ordered the town to remove moorings that were rented out “for whatever price the market will bear” – i.e., to make a profit – and open the anchorage to all on a first-come/first-served basis. As recently as December 2016, USACE’s Edward G. O’Donnell, Chief, Navigation Section, wrote, “According to the local cooperative agreement, signed by the town in 1960, the town is required to manage the area, open to all on equal terms.”

In a November 2001 letter, C.G. Boutilier, USACE Programs Management Branch, wrote: “Regarding Mill Cove, federal improvements are not made to provide navigation access to privately owned facilities, including commercial marinas. The federal objective is that the anchorage be accessible and available to all on equal terms.”

“Sometimes I think I’m the only legal boat in the anchorage,” Albanese chuckles.

So where does this convoluted issue stand? We really don’t know. We met with Albanese on Nov. 7, and she said that, inconceivably, in October, after receiving federal funds for decades, USACE has received a permit application from the Town of North Kingston to provide moorings in the coastal waters of North Kingstown. The anchorage is already a federal one because North Kingston chose to become one years ago.

“We have a federal project which was supposed to be governed by rules that the town had agreed on, [but] the rules were completely ignored,” one marina owner was quoted by investigative journalist Jim Hummel, in his “The Hummel Report” (www.hummelreport.org). “And the whole mooring area seemed to have been run sort of like a private business.”

A silver lining: Out of this bureaucratic morass was spawned the Wickford Boaters Association (www.facebook.com/wickfordba, email: wickfordboatersassociation@gmail.com), a group of more than 100 boating enthusiasts who wish to regain some control over a pastime that’s suppose to be fun, simple, uncomplicated, and available to all.

Comments are closed.