I am one of those “boat people,” as I think someone called them at a Gulfport city council meeting a few years back. No, I don’t live on a boat and no, I don’t own a boat but yes, I love being on boats and yes, I believe Gulfport’s history is so enmeshed with the water that the narrow-minded dismissal of a mooring field by an elite few with a peculiar agenda is a bastardization of the political process and a stellar example of manipulating government for one’s own good rather than the good of the people.
Does that make my bias clear enough for everyone concerned?
See, I’m in a tough spot here. I’ve covered the mooring field since its first appearance as part of the city’s Comprehensive Harbor Management Plan in 2004 and will continue to do so. But I’ve reached my threshold of how many lies I hear about the marina and the mooring field before it becomes fodder for this column.
I crossed that threshold a couple of weeks ago at the marina’s flea market. Someone approached me and started spitting out lies about the mooring field and how the city would lose money and never fill the slips and the marina was mismanaged and… and, well, I’m certain they said more but I stopped listening.
I stopped listening because I heard it all before at election time and before you believe what any political hopeful may tell you to impress you with his or her knowledge of budgets and before you join the stampede to make the marina and mooring field the popular dog to kick, consider this:
The Gulfport Municipal Marina is the reason that every property owner in the city doesn’t pay higher ad valorem taxes. Although the elected officials suggest tax cuts and vote for lower taxes (when you’re an elected official it’s pretty much political suicide to do otherwise), the reason that Gulfport can actually do that is because the marina is the goose and the boats her golden eggs. As marinas statewide suffocate under a blanket of cookie-cutter condos the ones that remain reap the benefits.
Right now the city’s marina has a waiting list for its smaller slips, none of its larger slips available, and six or seven 40’ slips available. If we had a mooring field—when we have a mooring field—some of those boats could go to the mooring field, or maybe some of the boats in the marina would jump at the chance to move to a less expensive mooring and open up spots in the marina. As long as the marina’s turning away boats for lack of space no one can successfully argue that the mooring field would sit empty.
I don’t know how a mooring field could be unsafe, which is the other argument I’ve heard. Right now Gulfport has the equivalent of a white trash boat graveyard burgeoning just off the beach. Don’t misunderstand; some of the boats anchored on the Gulfport side of Boca Ciega Bay remain well maintained and securely anchored, but not all of them. One made it up to the beach this week, as I understand it. So those of you who oppose the mooring field on safety grounds, please tell me how a mooring ball properly secured to the bottom makes for a dangerous alternative to throwing all manners of anchors in a sand bottom and hoping they hold. Council heard and debated this numerous times before voting in favor of a mooring field.
Speaking of council, it has only one active opponent of the mooring field, Michele King, and while I like Michele very much, I’ve watched her allow emotion to cloud her thinking about issues when she feels passionately.
Does King want what she believes is best for Gulfport? I believe she does, but I also believe people with their own less-than-noble agendas try to manipulate her emotions for their means not related to the best interest of the city but perhaps their business.
These people disgust me, but I believe that King is smarter than they think she is and definitely smarter than any of them. I also believe she will do what the majority of her constituents ask of her rather than heed the bitter vituperative of a disingenuous few.
Other than that group I suspect the biggest opponents of the mooring field simply do not want to look out on the bay and see boats. These folks need to check their history and then look towards the future.
Gulfport started as a fishing town, and from Civil War blockade runners to the Aylesworths to Tropical Island Getaways, Gulfport’s legacy is built on the water. It’s what sustains the city now and what Gulfport can bank on in the future. If you reject the mooring field because you don’t want to look out and see boats, might I suggest that one of our fine Realtors put you in touch with one of their offices in Colorado, Iowa, or another such state?
Because, quite honestly, Gulfport’s a fishing village all grown up, but it’s still a fishing village and if you don’t get that, you don’t get Gulfport at all.