WILMETTE PARK DISTRICT
MINUTES OF THE SPECIAL MEETING OF THE
BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF THE WILMETTE PARK DISTRICT
HELD AT THE MALLLINCKRODT COMMUNITY CENTER
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2012
Written notice of said meeting was given to the Commissioners and the Wilmette Life in accordance with the Wilmette Park District Code, Section 2103, and Section 2.02 of the Open Meetings Act.
PRESENT: President James Brault; Commissioners Gary Benz, James Crowley, Darrell Graham, John Olvany, Michael Murdock, and Shelley Shelly; Secretary/Director Stephen Wilson; Assistant Secretary Judy Ostrem
STAFF: Superintendents Bingham, Bowen, Eppelheimer, and Lambrecht; Communications Manager Donoghue
VISITORS: See Attached List
President Brault welcomed everyone to the meeting and stated the only item on the agenda was the Park District’s consideration of a long-term lease with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) for the Wilmette Harbor. The Wilmette Harbor was originally developed in 1910 as a settling basin for the North Shore canal. The purpose of a basin is to prevent excess sand from going backward into the canal and blocking the outflow of storm water. In the 1930’s the State of Illinois dredged the harbor and the degraded material was deposited adjacent to the harbor. Much of it has been reclaimed and is now part of Gillson Park today. The Harbor itself is owned by the MWRD. For the last 50 years the harbor has been leased to the Wilmette Harbor Association which is a non-profit group and not related to the Park District or the Village of Wilmette. The lease originally came due in July 2011 and it has since been extended through the end of this year. As part of the renewal process, the MWRD, which is also a public body, was required to take the lease out to public bid. However, there was an exception in the law that allowed the MWRD to deal directly with another public entity such as the Park District without going through the bid process. In 2010, MWRD contacted the Park District to explore the potential of leasing the harbor. Since that time, the Park District has been evaluating the opportunity to be involved in the harbor. The Park District’s evaluation has focused on three central issues, the first of which was whether or not Park District involvement could improve or expand the services that we currently provide and that are consistent with the Park District’s mission statement which is primarily “to enrich the quality of the community and promote wholesome activities through creative programming for people of all ages and abilities while protecting the open space and natural resources for future generations.”
The second concept was to determine if there were synergies that could be created by managing two adjacent facilities and Gillson Park is directly adjacent to the harbor. As a result, the question was raised if we could provide more at a less cost to the community such as additional points of boater access or expanding the harbor itself through utilization of the adjacent property in Gillson. Thirdly, the Board considered whether the Park District could use its institutional expertise in systems management, facilities management, and transparent government that would benefit stakeholders in the harbor and those residents who want to seek additional access to the lakefront.
As the Board considered these points we have been mindful of the 100-year-old infrastructure of the harbor, the north and south jetty, and the north pier. In order to be certain about the condition of the infrastructure, the Park District engaged SmithGroupJJR earlier this year to perform a conditions assessment report for the harbor. We received their final report at the end of August and the results of the report were previously disclosed. We had also forwarded the report to the WHA and MWRD and also posted it on our own website. The report estimates that the potential cost of the maintenance of the infrastructure would come in three phases. Over the first five years the report estimates that the costs would be $2.1 million. Over the next five years, the report estimates that the cost would be $6.2 million and then be cumulative. Over the next 15 years the cumulative potential expense would be $11.7 million. The most immediate need is for the repair of the north pier. The report characterized this part of the facility as “pending failure” and will require near term attention in the amount of $1.5 million.
Another important factor is that the MWRD voted earlier this month to put the harbor lease out to bid in approximately the next 30 days. This materially changed the Park District’s approach because now we are effectively in competition with any other potential leaseholders including WHA. There is one point he wants to make very clear and that is based on his conversation with the rest of the Commissioners of the Park Board, he believes that the Park District is not going to entertain a lease proposal with the MWRD whereby the taxpayers of Wilmette would become obligated to pay for the capital repairs to the infrastructure of the Wilmette Harbor. However, the Board may pursue other alternatives with the MWRD.
President Brault opened up the floor for public comment and added the Board is well aware the community has little appetite for having the taxpayers incur the infrastructure costs. He then asked those in attendance to provide their insight for the following three questions: Would they support the management of the harbor if Wilmette taxpayers were not obligated for the capital repair costs; secondly, would they be in favor of the Park District’s management of the harbor if it is incorporated with the Wilmette Harbor Association management; and thirdly do they believe there is currently adequate access for boating in Wilmette. He also reminded everyone that there are strong opinions on this issue but no matter what is concluded, we will still be a community of neighbors no matter what the outcome will be and asked everyone to be respectful of the proceedings, the speakers and particularly the Board which has spent a lot of time on this issue and who are doing their very best. Tonight’s meeting is an opportunity for people to express their opinions.
RECOGNITION OF VISITORS
Beth Beucher, 1420 Sheridan Road, thanked the Board for allowing her to present her signed petitions and wants the Board and the public to know she has served as a member of the Park District’s Lakefront Commission since it was formed by the Board in September of 2010. She is also a boat user in the harbor. She also asked to reserve time at the end of the public comment session to make her personal statements to the Board. In addition, she wanted to present to the Board the signed petitions and asked that they be made a permanent part of the meeting minutes and that the signed petitions be appended to those minutes. She added that from September 15-20 at least 450 people have signed the petition and she anticipates more will be coming in. Signatures to this petition were gathered by Wilmette residents who talked to their friends, family and neighbors about the Park District’s plans for the harbor and by their viewing of the web site and reading articles. The message stated by residents in this petition should receive great weight by the Board in making any decision about this issue. The reason for that is after the Wilmette Park Board meeting on July 18, 2011 which I and many others attended, the presentation was made by a lot of different people about their concerns of whether or not the Park District was going to pursue the lease. The recording of that meeting is posted on the Park District’s web site as well as the website for “Save Wilmette Harbor”. After the meeting on the 18th, Ms. Beucher stated she spoke to President Brault and he commented that sometimes government knows better. The signers of this petition and many Wilmette residents have come to a different conclusion. In this particular instance with this particular governmental entity, the Board’s plan for the future of the Wilmette Harbor proves government does not know better than its citizens.
Robert Matz, 1638 Spencer stated he has lived in Wilmette for 32 years and has been in the harbor for 20 years. His main question is about the parking situation and that after 9 am you cannot get near the beach or the harbor. Most of the cars who park on the upper level are from Chicago. When he uses the Chicago harbor, he has to pay a fee but if they come to Wilmette, they don’t have to pay for parking. In addition, the MWRD has always required that the harbor accept everyone who resides in the metro area. Also, it is a fact that two-thirds of the 300 boats in the harbor are outside of the Village so how would the Park District handle that situation. Secondly, in regard to the MWRD requirement, the harbor has always honored it, the list is monitored and there has never been a problem with the municipalities. He hopes to hear something before the Board makes arrangements without informing the rest of the Village.
Mark Soya, 531½ Ridge Road stated he is a resident and is the J-24 fleet captain of Wilmette Harbor and owns a 24-foot One-Design sailboat. One-Design fleets are a special but fragile entity in the world of sailing and Wilmette Harbor has six such fleets. There are also 21 J-24’s in the harbor which is probably the most successful One-Design sailboat of all time. Wilmette has the largest active fleet of Dolphins in the world and Wilmette Harbor has the only remaining Arrow fleet in the world. Because of the downturn in the economy, sailing fleets like these around the country are struggling. But in the last three years the harbor and Sheridan Shores have hosted numerous championships along with one event last summer with the Park District which was very successful thanks to the Park District. These events brought additional revenue to Wilmette and our local merchants. We have also had much success in providing a path for our children to participate from the local sailing school. It is a shallow harbor and is not conducive to larger sailboats. His concern is that if the Park District takes over and we do not depend on the taxpayers to shoulder some of the fiscal responsibility, then the boat owners would incur additional costs for moorings and the harbor is already at the high end. His fear is that the One-Design fleets will be eliminated and would prefer the Park District continues to provide our children with the One-Design building blocks they need to move forward.
Bill Lousha, 5640 Capri, Morton Grove, stated he would like to address one of the questions which relates to having more accessibility for people to sail which he has been promoting for the last seven years. He has been teaching sailing through the Sea Scout program for youth and is a skipper of a Sea Scout ship at Montrose Harbor. Two years ago he restarted the Sea Scout #9 at Wilmette Harbor which was sponsored by the yacht club. However, it’s currently not active because the other adult leader dropped out. He has been fortunate to own ten different sailboats and has sailed them in Lake Michigan and other water bodies. He has also been in 900 races and holds a US Coast Guard Master License 50-ton. The main question is how can the harbor have more access. He was at the Wilmette sailing beach for 17 years with a Hobie Cat and was commodore of the Wilmette Sailing Association as well as a fleet captain at the harbor. At that time we asked the Park District for support for the sailing association but nothing was done. Sponsoring races would be something that the Park District could do again. The Wilmette Harbor Association could also promote more accessibility.
Rich Traub, Wilmette Resident, stated that when the meeting began tonight, the Board asked for a response to three main questions. Realistically, how could anyone know the answers to those questions since he doesn’t think anyone has a clear idea of what would happen if we owned the harbor. He knows there would be a lot of work and planning involved and doesn’t think anyone here has a clear understanding of how things would operate. Moving forward he would like to know more before moving forward. There has always been a close working relationship between the Harbor and Sheridan Shores but that hasn’t been mentioned at all by the Board.
Paul Malm, 210 Dupee stated he has lived in Wilmette for 37 years. He has two words for the Board – fiscal and fiduciary responsibility. The Board needs to have a fiduciary relationship with all residents. He is glad that the Park District will not be taking over the harbor but he would like to know what the three things are that the Park District wants to do.
Phil Serwich, 444 Ridge Road stated he has had a boat in the harbor for about 20 years and a Hobie Cat on the beach for 25 years. The harbor management is directly responsible to the Harbor Association which is made up of moorings to ensure that the facility is run at the maximum cost efficiency and that it is in the best interest of all mooring holders. We operate as best we can to keep the harbor in the best condition to facilitate boating. Without a detailed plan of what the Board’s expectations are in regard to the facility, it’s impossible for anyone to formulate any kind of response. However, he feels the Park District should feel free to offer detailed proposals to the WHA at such time when it feels that the plans have been well thought out, are in everyone’s best interests, and are cost effective. We are always interested in improvements and he hopes the Board keeps that in mind.
Larry Gordon, Garrison Street, stated he is a sailor at the harbor and is also a tennis player. He plays tennis outside in our parks during the summer but this past summer there was very little use of the courts on Saturday morning. In addition, there was publicity about the proposed building of a paddle tennis facility at around $1 million. He doesn’t know if that plan is moving forward but with no one on the regular tennis courts, he doesn’t think paddle is the way to go. He believes this same point of view also applies to taking over the harbor and he encourages the Park District to leave it alone.
Rick Prohov, 2435 Pomona Lane, stated he has lived in Wilmette for about 25 years and has had the opportunity to speak before the Board on several occasions. This meeting tonight began with the presentation of a petition that contained 450 signatures indicating their opposition to the Park District’s desire to run the harbor. Before the Board decides to undertake a very expensive plan to identify the $12 million of capital improvements that would be needed, the Board needs to tell us who would pay and who would deal with the lack of capital improvements. He asked where did the demand come from which resulted in a plan by this Board and what demand from the community did you receive to initiate this entire process. Like paddle tennis and the Thornwood skate park, what was the demand from the community and what type of community surveys did you take to see if anyone would like this type of service from the Park District.
Charles Shea, 735 Michigan Avenue, stated he is surprised but happy to hear the announcement at the beginning of tonight’s meeting. He is also glad we will be more informed moving forward. He is not a boat owner or a sailor but he agrees with what other people have commented. He thinks there is no demand for the Park District to pursue the harbor. Given the Board’s announcement, he thinks it’s appropriate for him to go to the particular points found in the Lakefront Commission’s report which shows an unanimous agreement to maintain and improve currently built elements but not to add any new buildings or new parking areas in Gillson Park. During the commission’s meetings, former Director Terry Porter made a couple of suggestions indicating that we wanted to have additional parking. Then there was another suggestion that we add a permanent toilet building in the area near the dog beach. These suggestions were ultimately rejected by the Commission. As a result, he wanted to pose a continuing objection on behalf of the commission and he is now looking to find out what the Board’s specific plan is so that we can respond in an intelligent way and also respond as members of the commission.
Robert Whittlesey, Wilmette, stated he has lived in Wilmette for about 30-35 years. He has sailed his entire life from the time he was a young boy in Michigan and then when he moved to Chicago. He has raced in a number of locations around the country and more recently in the cruising class in Wilmette. He would like to remind the Board and everyone else that this is a democracy and that elected officials must do what the citizens want to do, not what the elected officials want. Secondly, the harbor has been run for at least 50 or 75 years by its existing management. It would be difficult to find anyone in that facility who is upset by the way it is currently run or how it has been run for many years. One of the major faults of government often occurs when the government steps in and decides for whatever reason they should do something even though the existing system is working fine. He is also concerned with the statement made about funding whatever the expenditures may be and that it would somehow be worked out with the MWRD board. The MWRD is also a governmental entity and it could be a very long and protracted process as they determine how they might be able to assist or not. This should be of great concern for everyone involved particularly since the harbor operation is working just fine.
Richard Peterson, 2601 Park Lane, Glenview stated he has had a sailboat with his father since he was 6 or 7. They enjoyed the harbor and my father sometimes used to say you can do things but that doesn’t mean you should. I think that statement should be addressed to the Board as well. You can do things but ask yourselves should you do them. The Board is going to tax me out and he will no longer be able to have a boat in the harbor because he feels the cost to have a boat there will double or triple for non-residents. He is looking forward to a time when the public will be able to listen to the responses that the Board will be providing us in the near future. Also, the Park District did a poor job of publicizing tonight’s meeting and made a mistake by holding it in such small space.
Fred Fitzsimmons, 2229 Crestview Lane stated he is pleased to hear there seems to be a consensus among the Board that they would not be in favor of committing to the $12 million infrastructure coverage under the lease as proposed by the MWRD. He is puzzled by what actually would be done by the Park District if it did make a successful bid. He also thinks it is important for them to know what the Park District’s relationship would be with the WHA, who would have responsibility for what, and what would the revenue-sharing be between the two groups. He believes most of the anger from residents is due to not having been told anything specific as far as actual plans go. If a bid is successful, there would likely be considerable additional expenses that would be incurred by the Park District. Time is short for the Park District to be able to put in a bid and if it was done without community support, there would be resistance. At the very least, if the Park District would do anything in regard to exploring an arrangement with the MWRD, the Board needs to inform the public of the specific plans and indicate how to get a return on your investment. He doesn’t think any businessperson of sound mind would entertain putting in a bid for a $67,000 annual fee plus having to bear the responsibility of the infrastructure commitment.
Joe Bediz, 501 Pinecrest Lane, stated he is a long-term resident of Wilmette, uses all of the Park District facilities and is proud of them. When he heard about the harbor lease, he was amazed at how many people didn’t know of the efforts the Park District was putting forth to lease the harbor and the associated costs. Each person he talked to responded negatively. There are 300 slips or mooring spots at the harbor which is 1% of the total population of Wilmette. Increasing the number of spots is an objective that wouldn’t work. He implores the Board to take a look at what a boat rack is since it ranges from two-story to six-story buildings that accommodate 200-300 boats. It also requires a huge parking lot and a launch point which would be an eyesore resulting in the aesthetics of Gillson Park being challenged.
Peggy Smith, 335 Central Avenue stated she has lived in Wilmette her entire life and has had a boat in the harbor for 25 years. If everyone knew about this “magical place” Wilmette residents would be clamoring for the Park District to bid for this lease. Most residents pass by it regularly but have no chance to understand what it would offer their families. Their boat was like a second home on the weekends and the harbor is stunningly beautiful and unique. Unfortunately, this experience is not available to other Wilmette families and the harbor is essentially closed since they don’t even accept applications for larger slips anymore. We would be better off if the Park District had the authority to allocate moorings and provide new waterfront opportunities with input from the local community. This would also add value to our real estate and would provide incoming families with even more reasons to move to Wilmette.
Peter Nussbaum, 2547 Laurel Lane, thanked the Board for allowing the people to voice their opinions and stated “don’t do it”. We don’t want the citizens of Wilmette to be burdened with the potential taxes, potential bond issues, and all of the contingent problems. We need to save our money for our homes and families. He has 50 years of tax bills and would like the Board to not consider entering the lease with the MWRD and also does not want them to consider working together with the WHA. Stay away from it and please just say no.
Hal Shanafield, 2519 Marcy, Evanston stated a lot of speakers tonight have talked about their opposition to this Board taking over the management of the harbor and he wanted to add his voice as well. He thinks it should be remembered that the property of the harbor is not the property of the Village, it is MWRD property. As such it has been paid for by the taxpayers of the entire district as well as Cook County. The improvements to the harbor made over the past years have been paid for by the members of the WHA including cement work, gas docks, and much more. He has only been in the harbor for 10 years and had been on the waiting list for 21 years. He was finally fortunate to get a mooring on the south wall and the water level there is approximately 1.5 feet deep. As a result he is not able to lower his rudder and push off of the wall. He would like to see improvements made but doesn’t think anyone in Wilmette ought to be assuming the cost. Two-thirds of those people who currently have moorings or slips currently in the harbor are no longer Wilmette residents. It seems to him if he were an elected official he would be loathe to take on that that kind of fiscal responsibility when the elections inevitably come up.
Ted Prohov, 1509 Wilmette Avenue, stated he was a long-time Wilmette resident and wanted to ask some questions. First question – how does the Board intend to deal with the owners and lessees of the moorings in the harbor as it exists today. Second question – how would the Board deal with the apportionment of the District for those moorings. Third question – how do you intend to foster the racing fleets. Fourth question – how are you going to generate the revenue you will need to offset the lease and how will you handle the capital improvements. Fifth question – when will we see a plan. The conclusion is that you really haven’t thought this through and you don’t have the answers. There are still a lot of questions and considering the scope of the plan the citizens would like the Park District to provide the answers.
Jerry Gilson, 777 Michigan Avenue stated that he wanted to talk about the financial impact of the assumption of the lease. As he understands it there was a consensus among the commissioners to the extent that the Park District was not going into the lease arrangement with the MWRD unless there was some way to take care of avoiding the financial impact on the community. Does that mean the Board would be going to bid on the lease and that it would be free to taxpayers. However, he has to come back to his original position which is that it’s an unwise decision for the Board to move forward with any lease arrangements for a variety of reasons. When thinking about the boat owners, a vast majority of them live elsewhere and none of them pay real estate taxes in Wilmette. Does that mean we would charge non-residents a much higher percentage such as the Park District does at the beach. The MWRD prohibits that so essentially what we would be doing is subsidizing non-residents all across the Midwest. He thinks this would be squarely in conflict with the Park District’s mission statement which requires the Park District “to enrich the quality of community life and promote wholesome activities through creative programming for people of all ages and abilities, while protecting open space and natural resources for future generations.” This statement does not allow us to enrich the lives of people who live in Lake Forest or DeKalb who have the privilege of having an arrangement for a mooring in the Harbor. Without a whole lot of information he also has concerns about the length of the lease period which is 39 years. That means the Park District would be obligated until 2051 which is a long time and getting into a long term arrangement is an unfortunate proposal for the citizens of Wilmette and he is against it.
Mark Unak, 335 Central Avenue, stated he would like to encourage the Board to put a bid in for managing the harbor. The Park District does a wonderful job with all of their facilities. Part of the reason he is for the lease is that the Park District could then improve access to the harbor. He presented an application from the WHA for putting a boat in the harbor which indicated he could possibly get a mooring in about 30 years but probably not in his lifetime. If the District decides to put a bid out for the lease and then decides to go with the WHA, some reforms need to be made in the application process and the management of those mooring assignments. There is a very static group of people in the harbor. He has a boat in the harbor and pays about $1,000 per month. There is also a lack of parking.
Jamie Gilson, 777 Michigan Avenue, stated she is not a boater but does stroll around the area. She understands that the harbor is owned by the MWRD and that it is primarily a water control site and only secondarily a boat harbor. As a boat harbor, it can only be leased. She also understands that when committing to a lease that lasts until 2051, it would require a lot of time and responsibilities. One such responsibility in addition to the infrastructure would be the dredging of the harbor mouth and the settling basin every spring in order to ensure the needed flow of water from the North Shore Channel into the lake. When storms come, the lock must be opened which releases several gallons of sewage water that flows through the harbor. At that point, the boats must be moved to safeguard them from this surge. For 75 years the WHA, non-profit organization made up of the harbor’s boat owners, has leased and successfully managed it. Among a host of other things they assign the slips, pay for the yearly dredging which averages $150,000 to $200,000/year, repair the harbor walls and they oversee the boats so that the channel water doesn’t completely inundate them. The WHA does this all for free and Wilmette pays nothing for harbor upkeep. However, if the Park District signs this lease, it will assume these many responsibilities until the year 2051. She urges the Board to abandon its interest in the Harbor and in signing this unnecessary and costly agreement.
Howard Sandroff, 1108 Greenleaf stated he and his wife have lived in Wilmette for 40 years and in the interest of full disclosure he has owned a boat in the harbor for about 20 years. Before that he was on the waiting list for 15 years. He loves to sail and the harbor is small. The facility is not a natural harbor. It silts up, is expensive to maintain and is in marginal repair. However, he is not in favor of the Park District taking over the operation of the harbor and he is not a fan of the Park District in general. What the Board is talking about is a mammoth undertaking that requires planning. He understands the problems with the impending lease but this is far too great a project to be dealt with in this short period of time. Someone will expand the harbor someday and maybe the Park District in its unbridled attempt to build an empire will take it over. This is a major project that will cost a lot of money and the Park District owes its constituents to consider this lease very carefully.
Carla Gilman, 404 Laurel stated she and her husband have a boat although she never uses it. The Board has said it is not interested in pursuing a lease since residents would be responsible for the repair bills. She thinks it’s important for the Wilmette community to look at the MWRD to cover some of that. Also remember that we pay taxes to the MWRD as well. The other issue is that there is not enough access to the water in Wilmette but she doesn’t know how you would expand that since it’s a very unique situation because it’s not a natural harbor. It would also affect Gillson Park which is already so crowded that local residents don’t even go there. The Board needs to consider how this affects not only the boat owners but also the residents of Wilmette. She doesn’t think it would be a positive move at this time.
Carl Schaeffer, 110 Fourth Street stated he is resident and also a sailor with a boat on the beach. He thanked the Park District for all the excellent work it does. He heard President Brault say that the bidding process changes the Park District’s approach and he believes it should. The Park District should be involved in the harbor and the WHA should be involved if the Park District is involved. There is also currently no access to the water in the harbor. He also feels tonight’s meeting was well publicized and in fact he received seven emails. He was in the harbor for seven years but the harbor didn’t let him keep the slip. One key point is that the harbor is currently a gem and will still be in Wilmette but he is worried about the commercial bidding process which could end badly. He believes there is a common interest between the WHA and the Park District and certainly the residents of Wilmette to keep a commercial entity out of the harbor. He proposes a 5-10 year exclusive management agreement with the harbor while we sort out what we want to do here in Wilmette.
Mike Fallow, 3808 Lake Avenue stated he has lived in Wilmette for 30 years and has a boat in the harbor. He also asked what if there was no harbor and what if the Park District doesn’t bid on it. He feels that we would end up with a big swamp and the Park District would have to clean it up.
Jasmina Houser, Wilmette stated she and her husband do not own a boat and do not sail. However, she has noticed that it is hard to get into the harbor. As a mother and a self-employed person she stated we really don’t want taxes raised so she doesn’t know how the Park District would pay for the harbor if they decided to bid for the lease. Officials in Springfield are talking about shifting the burden of pensions to the local school districts so our taxes would be increased if that goes through. The harbor issue seems very rushed and it sounds like people are upset that some boat owners are unable to get leases for these slips. If that is the case, why doesn’t the Park District along with the WHA revise their policy and work it all out. In addition, both Kenilworth and Glencoe have beaches where boats can be placed.
Beth Beucher, 1420 Sheridan Road, stated that when talking about increasing access to the harbor, one thing not mentioned was the number of vacancies throughout other area harbors that are in some cases at all-time highs. These other harbors were specifically designed to be harbors compared to the Wilmette Harbor which was not designed to be a harbor. Part of the reason why Wilmette Harbor has never gone beyond the 300 slips is because of the creation of the settling basin by the MWRD which fell into secondary use as a harbor when the MWRD decided to make some revenue off of it by leasing it. She thinks that when talking about trying to expand access to the harbor either physically in its current configuration or by lifting boats in through dry storage, you would be denying the reality of the harbor’s physical condition and that the harbor’s primary purpose was for flood control and the flow of water that is essential for all of Cook County. Her second point is that she understands there are some people who had to wait a long time to get into the harbor. She is one of those people and was on the waiting list for 19 years. She strongly feels that the WHA board tries very hard to be honest and forthright in the awarding of the mooring slips through wait list procedures as well as well developing application procedures which encompass a variety of things. One of the reasons why the WHA has been so successful in its management is that it has dedicated people who volunteer their time and money to do the repair costs at a much lower rate than any commercial operator or governmental operator could do. She has also been in harbors that are run by commercial operators and there is not the same sense of community. Finally, if someone has a problem with the MWRD’s ownership, maintenance or operation of the harbor and the waiting list, the proper authority to address would be the owner of the property and the party that leases that property to the lessor. The WHA for the last 75 years has done a good job of being fair to all people, not just people who might want to get into that harbor.
Chuck Hatsis, 320 Third Street stated he understands all of the points that have been made tonight and that those who have their boats in the water now want to keep them there. He also understands the points made about additional access and he would love to have a boat down there. If the Park District is going to submit a bid, we must not do it in a “knee jerk” fashion. We need to know the costs and how to bring the revenue in to make it as tax neutral as possible. If those issues are all in place, then he thinks a bid would make sense in cooperation with those who are currently there. If we are just doing this because it sounds good, the Park District shouldn’t be signing up for that type of commitment.
Alan Smith (Wilmette Sailing), 1819 Elmwood, stated sailing in Wilmette and boating in general has been dropping in the last few years probably due to the recession. They are also having vacancies in all of the other harbors. When trying to figure out how to pick up this loss in the harbor you need to make sure that you look at this issue since it’s something you have never done before and it would be an experiment. It’s also important to look at how there are no other commercial operators who would touch a harbor that has under 400 or 500 slips which is the standard in the industry. Another issue that wasn’t addressed in the study is that the water levels in Lake Michigan have been dropping consistently. His two sons are physicists and in the scientific community there is solid evidence that we are going through climate change. And Lake Michigan needs to freeze to stop evaporation which unfortunately is not happening. This year alone the lake levels are down by 11 inches and not just inside the harbor but also coming in from the lake and getting into the harbor. If this continues, you would be spending $175,000 to $225,000 to take only one foot of sediment out of the harbor. The Park District must also understand that when you dig out a harbor there would be 80 years of toxic waste in it. Also you would have to build all those breakwaters along with expenses for ADA compliance, electrical, plumbing, etc. In light of that, it is really not an expanding marketplace that we’re contemplating. However, it is hoped the Park District will involve all the people of Wilmette if you do move forward.
Matt Bevenour, 123 Ninth Street, stated he is a fan of the Park District and his children are in its programs. A lakefront study was just done with a recurring theme of “leave it alone” and keep it natural. However, maybe redoing the bathrooms in the concessions area would be a good idea. In regard to expanding access, he sees that the north wall needs repairing so maybe we could make a left turn into the dog beach and move the dog beach further down another 100 yards. Also, a boat ramp in action can be a mess with traffic and to park a boat with a trailer can also be difficult. In addition, every other owner would have a wave runner. We also don’t want a two- or three-story boat rack on the beach. He repeated that the harbor should be kept natural and he wants to keep it the way it is now.
Geoff Wilson, Baha’i Organization In-House Counsel stated his organization has had property here in Wilmette for well over 100 years. They have had about 70 years of working with the MWRD and leasing the parking lot which is adjacent to their house of worship which people might think belongs to the Baha’i organization. We just went through the process of acquiring a 39-year lease with the MWRD so he can speak to what it was like. With all due respect to the MWRD, they are operating under statute and trying to raise money for the running of the operation there which in every year the costs keep growing in order to keep the water and sanitary conditions clean along the canal. The MWRD now has this statute that requires it go out to public auction and get at least two appraised values. However, if the MWRD doesn’t like your two appraisals, they then get a third one and you would have to pay the MWRD 10% of that cost which is the minimum and after all that, someone else may bid on it. Their lease is about 50 pages long with a lot of strict conditions that have to be complied with. And they are a religious organization, not a Fortune 400 company. As a result, this is quite a lot of responsibility for them. He doesn’t know how it would it would work with the MWRD for the harbor but he would recommend being cautious since they discovered from first-hand experience there are a lot of steps involved along with a lot of variables.
After hearing no other comments, President Brault asked for a motion to adjourn the public comment session.
Commissioner Graham moved and Commissioner Murdock seconded a motion to adjourn the Wilmette Harbor public comment session of the Board of Park Commissioners.
By a roll call vote, voting Yes – Commissioners Benz, Brault, Crowley, Graham, Murdock, Olvany, and Shelly; voting No -- None. Absent – None; Motion carried.
President Brault thanked everyone for attending the meeting this evening and apologized for the less then optimal room conditions. He also thanked all of those who spoke tonight and all those who listened patiently and constructively. This has been a good example of how government works. For the last 14 months the Board has been taking input on this issue from a variety of sources. There was also a lot of work that our staff has been doing as far as preparing the information. The next step is to synthesize the information and ideas that have been brought to us as well as the other concerns ranging from financial to operational. All of these issues that have been raised are concepts the Board has also been wrestling with and we will try our best to come up with the next step. We may or may not decide to include making a bid for the lease since we have not yet determined whether we would or would not do that. Because of the nature of the lease, the statute allows for us to have the next level of debate in closed session which is what we will be doing next. The Board will then return to open session and report on what our next direction would be which may include specifics depending on what we choose to do.
Commissioner Graham moved and Commissioner Shelly seconded a motion to adjourn to Closed Session for the discussion of the purchase or lease of real property for the use of the District, including meetings held for the purpose of discussing whether a particular parcel should be acquired in accordance with Section 5 ILCS 120/2(c)(5) of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.)
By a roll call vote, voting Yes – Commissioners Benz, Brault, Crowley, Graham, Murdock, Olvany, and Shelly; voting No -- None. Absent – None; Motion carried.
The meeting adjourned to Closed Session at 9:25 pm.
The Special Board meeting was reconvened at 11:15 pm.
President Brault stated the Board had considered the Wilmette Harbor issue and prepared a statement which he read as follows:
“The Wilmette Park Board has been considering potential involvement in the Wilmette Harbor over the past 18 months. The Board has been evaluating whether or not to negotiate with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District as a potential lessee for the Wilmette Harbor. The Park District conducted over 10 public Board and Committee meetings to consider the issue. As part of its investigation, the Board engaged SmithGroupJJR to prepare a “Property Conditions Assessment” of the infrastructure and the potential cost to repair and maintain it over the next 15 years. The report estimated these costs to be approximately $11.7 million.”
“Based on the significant input received by the Park Board from a variety of its constituencies, the Park Board’s understanding of the MWRD’s requirement of a $67,000 annual lease payment and the stipulation that the lessee will be required to repair and maintain the existing infrastructure at the lessee’s cost, the Wilmette Park District has decided not to submit a bid at this time to lease and manage the harbor based on the parameters outlined to date.”
There being no further business, the Special Board meeting was adjourned at 11:20 pm.
MINUTES APPROVED ON OCTOBER 8, 2012.