The rights to more than 20 Newport rental moorings have been sold by permit holders in illegal transfers in recent years, including 17 that were purchased by the New York Yacht Club, according to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), the state’s regulatory agency.
According to Stuart Streuli, a spokesman for the yacht club, the moorings were purchased for the “exclusive use of yacht club members and their guests.”
“Newport provides these permits to give visitors an option to rent a mooring. In my mind, that is what they are for,” said Harbormaster Tim Mills. “But now we have one entity that has grabbed them for their members.”
Although the sale price is not public information, Mills estimated that the moorings sold for about $1,000 per linear foot, or around $40,000 apiece.
According to the CRMC, permit holders do not have legal authority to sell the space, which is a “a government issued temporary license given to a specific person or entity, for a specific duration, to utilize a specific area of the public’s water for a specific private purpose.”
In an April 22 letter addressed to Mills, CRMC Deputy Director Jeffrey Willis wrote, “It has come to the attention of CRMC that commercial mooring permits in Newport have been transferred between individuals or entities by purchase and sale agreements that contravene the laws and well-ordered regulations that have been established to manage the state of Rhode Island’s coastal resources.”
He specified that permit holders may “not assign, transfer or sell” the moorings.
The majority of the 252 rental permits are held by Oldport Marine Services and Newport Mooring Services, which rents them to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. Although the city manages 40 rental moorings, it should not be in the business of renting moorings, said Mills.
“These relationships work really well,” said Mills.
Commercial moorings were excluded from a recent overhaul to the city’s private mooring regulations, which aimed to make the harbor more accessible to Newport residents. It was during these reviews that questions regarding the commercial mooring sales were brought to CRMC’s attention.
Around 600 people are on the list for a private mooring, with a wait time of 15 years for Newport residents, and longer for non-residents. The city does not maintain a waitlist for commercial moorings.
Currently, 28 percent of the total moorings are rentals, slightly more than the 25 percent goal set by city ordinance. A commercial mooring would go back to the residential pool if returned, said Mills.
How did this happen? “We thought we had to allow the transfers,” said Mills.
Around 2001, when the city developed Perrotti Park and the adjacent harbor, it was discovered that resident Carl Bolender had unpermitted moorings. Bolender sued the city and was awarded 23 commercial moorings. The court judgement included language that allowed the permits to be transferred, Mills said.
But the CRMC said the city holds complete authority over the permits.
“You, as the city’s agent, remain free to change the people or entities to whom you issue commercial mooring permits; but the decision to change the assignment of the permits must be yours alone, done so accordingly to the authority, vested in you by the city’s harbor ordinance, and must not be influenced by any ‘sale’ or ‘transfer’ by its prior owner,” wrote Willis.
The CRMC is leaving the matter to the city to resolve. Newport officials are reviewing possible ordinance changes and enabling legislation.
“The CRMC was made aware of the mooring transfer situation by the City of Newport, and we provided clarification regarding the city’s authority to manage the moorings and their transfer via a letter to the harbormaster,” said CRMC officials. “That is the extent of the CRMC’s involvement in this matter at this time.”
Newport officials are reviewing possible ordinance changes and enabling legislation, but it will not happen overnight, they say.
“This is at an infant stage, so I apologize that I can’t provide concrete answers,” said City Solicitor Christopher Behan.
However, he said the city is not ignoring the letter. “CRMC has jurisdiction over these waters,” he said. “We have to consider what they have put in this letter. We have to address them. We have to respond to them.”
There is no plan to revoke or reverse transfers that were already completed, he said.
When asked about the spaces purchased by the yacht club, Behan said, “The yacht club’s position is they are providing moorings to transient guests as these moorings are intended. There are always two sides to a story, probably more.”