D.C. Fisheries & Wildlife Department May Bail Out NPS to Fix Fletcher’s Boathouse
The Boathouse at Fletcher’s Cove -- a concession owned and controlled by the National Park Service -- is upstream on the Potomac River about two miles from the Georgetown shoreline and is stuck in the mud. Literally.
The boathouse has operated out of this small cove for more than 100 years, but the cove has now filled with silt and debris, which has grounded and isolated the walkway out to the dock at an angle and has made getting to it unsafe. Additionally, silting at the entrance to the cove from the water side makes entering the entire cove virtually impossible at any time other than at the highest tide.
In mid-October the NPS declared the walkway to the dock unsafe for public use, effectively shutting down the business and access to the river two weeks before the end of the season with no concrete plans to fix the problem. One NPS official admitted that the NPS does not have the money to dredge the cove or make any substantial long-term repairs.
Fletcher’s is treasured by fisherman who see it as an ideal fishing location, in part because of the currents from Great Falls and the depth of the water mid-river.
Aside from fishermen themselves, the biggest impact may be for the D.C. Fisheries & Wildlife Division. Fletcher’s is the only boathouse that rents fishing boats which, according to the District, account for 60 percent of D.C’s fishing and wildlife permits sold in the city, bringing in $60,000 for D.C. government.
At a Dec. 17 public meeting, held by the Park Service at its Ohio Drive office for the National Capital Region, Bryan King, director of D.C. Fisheries & Wildlife Division, saw the problem as urgent, saying that without Fletcher's there would be no D.C. Fisheries and Wildlife Department. Without a working boathouse at Fletcher's, King said, “We don’t even qualify for de minimis status . . . we don’t exist and that’s not hyperbole, that’s not exaggeration, we don’t exist.”
In a Dec. 29 follow-up with the Georgetowner, King said that he had later found that the department would still exist, but it would be hard pressed to cover its expenses and would be spending much more money than it brings in. “It’d be a slow painful death if we didn't have that money,” King said.
At the Dec. 17 NPS meeting, King also said that D.C. has “literally hundreds of thousands of dollars,” part of a federal aid package “that we are currently not using, and it is strictly for boating access. . . . Now given that we haven’t spent any of this money of which we are supposedly obligated to spend, and we have money going back two, three, four years and in that sense it has been assigned to us, and it is non-competitive. … we could have a grant [for Fletcher’s] off our desks in a matter of weeks.”
There is a catch in this possible federal bailout: commercial activity is not allowed to take place where the federal funds are used. “The question is whether or not a government entity, [in this case the Park Service concession, operated by Guest Services, a private corporation] is considered a commercial enterprise. If the answer is no, it opens up literally hundreds of thousands of dollars with a 25-percent match."
King is expecting an answer to whether D.C. government dollars can and will be used to help resolve the issue, at least in the short term.