July 2, 2015 Share

Marina owners, Corps at odds over floating cabins

Marina operators left a public meeting Monday night calling “completely unworkable” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ guidelines for floating cabins on Lake Cumberland and other lakes in the Cumberland River Basin. Nonetheless, the hour-and-a-half informational session ended with the guidelines in effect and floating cabins are now permitted on Lake Cumberland.

Floating cabins are vessels with overnight accommodations. Up until May 26, these cabins were not allowed on lakes in the Cumberland River Basin. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act passed by Congress in 2014 directed the Corps to allow the cabins. Floating cabins are different from houseboats in that houseboats are movable; floating cabins are static, fixed or stationary, the Corps explained.

A roomful of people, including Lt. Col. Stephen Murphy, the Corps’ new Nashville District commander; tourism officials and marina lessees from the Lake Cumberland area, attended the public meeting at The Center for Rural Development. The Somerset meeting, moderated by Bill Peoples, chief of public affairs for the Corps’ Nashville District, is one of four the Corps is staging to inform the public and marina operators about the floating cabin guidelines. Corps officials said floating cabins will increase the recreational experience for the general public.

J.D. Hamilton, owner of Lee’s Ford Marina Resort and president of Kentucky Marina Association, called the Water Resources Reform and Development Act as it was enacted by Congress a “good law.” He and other marina operators on Lake Cumberland object to “guidance” or guidelines written by the Corps to implement the law for both marinas and private owners of floating cabins.

Some points of concern expressed by marina operators include:

• An individual cannot rent a floating cabin for longer than 30 days in any 60 consecutive days.

“Would you be a private owner of a floating cabin if you had to move it every 30 days … maybe to another marina?” Hamilton wondered.

• Holding the Corps harmless and mandating the lessee carry $1 million in liability insurance and a surety bond of $50,000 or the approximate cost of restoring the lease premises.

“Somebody could burn (a floating cabin) down and we’d (marina operators) be liable … I don’t think my insurance company would go for that,” interjected a marina operator.

• Requiring the federal minimum wage of $10.10 an hour to be paid by floating cabin contractors.

Dennis Smith, general manager of Burnside Marina, said workable guidelines would revive the struggling houseboat industry by allowing construction of floating cabins.

Bill Jasper, president of two marinas on Lake Cumberland and an official of Trifeca, a merger of Sumerset, Stardust and Thoroughbred houseboat manufacturers, agreed manufacturing and availability of floating cabins would be an economic stimulus for the entire Lake Cumberland area.

“(Floating cabins) would be so much more affordable,” said Hamilton. He said the average cost of a houseboat is about $600,000. A floating cabin could be built for about $100,000, Hamilton suggested.

“It would bring more people to the lake … the price of a houseboat is getting above what people with money want to pay,” he said.

A spokesperson at Green River Marina on Green River Lake in Taylor County where floating cabins are permitted said floating cabins are extremely popular on that lake. Green River Marina has seven floating cabins and five other floating cabins on the lake are owned by private individuals. The Corps’ guidelines apply only to lakes in the Cumberland River Basin.

Carolyn Mounce, executive director of Somerset-Pulaski Convention & Visitors Bureau, said floating cabins would add a tremendous amount to the transient tax that supports tourism promotions in Pulaski County. She appears confident Pulaski Fiscal Court would amend the county’s 3 percent transient tax ordinance to include floating cabins that would be in competition with existing overnight places.

“The transient tax is not paid by Pulaski countians, but by visitors who rent overnight accommodations,” Mounce pointed out.

Mike Abernathy, chief of the Nashville District Real Estate Division, said marina operators will ultimately be renting floating cabins after their floating cabin development plan is approved by the Corps.

Hamilton emphasized he is not taking a negative attitude toward the Corps; only trying to get back to what he believes is the intent of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.

“If the guidelines aren’t changed, no marina operator will be able to get into the floating cabin business,” Hamilton insists. “We need to get back with the law as it is written.”

Marina operators are hopeful for assistance from U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell. Contacted Tuesday after giving an address at Somerset Community College’s John Sherman Cooper Lecture Series, McConnell said he has not had an opportunity to discuss the situation with Donna McClure, his field representative who attended the Corps meeting Monday night.

“I am not familiar with the situation. I haven’t had a chance to talk with Donna. I had better not comment on it,” McConnell responded to a reporter’s question.

By BILL MARDIS Commonwealth Journal