The battle of big boat versus little boat continues.
A marina on Singer Island wants to expand but that plan is causing an uproar with its neighbors, who claim a multi-million dollar deal involving taxpayer money, as well as boater safety, is now at risk.
The Buccaneer Marina is opposed to plans its next door neighbor, the Sailfish Marina, has to expand its docks north 20 feet toward Buccaneer to allow for larger vessels.
It's an issue WPTV has been reporting on since mid-2016. In August 2017, Buccaneer even filed a challenge in court against permits Sailfish obtained from the Department of Environmental Protection to expand.
Now, Buccaneer has paid for billboards, commercial advertisement and printable cards that are being passed around local business -- all with the slogan "Tell Sailfish Marina No." A Facebook page has been created and a petition is also circulating on Change.org with 700 signatures, with a goal of 1,000 signatures to be sent to DEP once it's completed.
"The public support has been huge. A lot of people have called," said Richard Bright, the dock master for Buccaneer Marina. "We have a huge support, hopefully it keeps going."
Sailfish has stayed relatively quiet over the continued tension between Buccaneer -- until now. For the first time, Sailfish Marina is speaking out and defending its plan.
"I think they are disappointed that there are billboards and other things that are derogatory out there," said Sharon Merchant, president of government relations and public involvement company, The Merchant Strategy. "And we'd like nothing better than to have a good relationship with all of our neighbors, ncluding the Buccaneer."
Sailfish enlisted Merchant to speak on their behalf. She said that Sailfish's plans, which have been in the words for years, meet safety requirements issued by the state.
"If you look at the plans, Sailfish has voluntarily offered to only dock on the south side of the north end," said Merchant. "The Sailfish is voluntarily not going to have boats on the north side of the north docks. So that creates sort of a fairway and an easy way for the boats for Buccaneer to come in and out. So there will be no competition for space there."
But Bucaneers’ dock master fears there's still a danger with the docks, given that the project calls for even less space in an already tight corridor.
"The fairway that we have now is 93 feet. And it's going to be reduced by about 20 feet," said Bright. "When you've got a ripping current and wind and a boat trying to maneuver, that 20 feet means a lot."
In 2006, Palm Beach County entered into a preservation easement agreement with Sailfish Marina. The county agreed to pay over $15 million to Sailfish, with the condition that they maintain public access on their waterfront.
In its campaign, Buccaneer also claims Sailfish is violating that agreement.
"You're getting into 80 to 90 foot yachts. That's not much for public use, that's an elite few," explained Bright. "It's public use and they're eliminating 32 slips that the public currently using and going with 12 slips."
However, Merchant says her client is following every agreement set by the county in that 2006 agreement. Click here to view a copy of that agreement provided to WPTV.
"The easement required that they maintain a restaurant, the store, that they cont to sell gas to the public, that they provide dockage to the public for charter boats," she explained. "They also are required to do fishing tournaments and they've really exceeded those requirements. They county entered into that agreement because they thought it was in the best interest of residents and visitors."
Both parties agree on one point: They’d like to resolve this issue soon.
"At the end of the day, we aren't trying to cause any trouble or any issues. The Sailfish only wants to continue to be a good neighbor," said Merchant.
In an August interview with WPTV, PBC commissioner Hal Valeche expressed interest in a public meeting between the county, the town of Palm Beach Shores and with all parties involved. Buccaneer representatives say they followed up with the county on that idea but were told the town would need to spearhead such a meeting.
"I think everybody needs to sit down and talk, there's got to be a solution," said Bright.
WPTV obtained documents showing the DEP has dismissed the challenge filed by Buccaneer against Sailfish's application for permits. The DEP cites the dismissal as due to lack of material facts in Buccaneer's petition.
Buccaneer plans to make amendments to their petition and plans to issue another challenge with the Department of Administrative Hearing.