Northwest News

American Lake holiday boaters get break

A ticket on the windshield awaited 25 boaters who used the newly reopened American Lake Park boat launch in Lakewood over Memorial Day weekend.

For not paying the $10 fee to put their boat in the water, they would have to pay as much as $500.

But after initially saying “ouch” or a more explicit four-letter word, they’re now able to say “phew.”

Lakewood City Manager Andrew Neiditz is ordering his staff to dismiss the infractions, in part because there wasn’t enough signage at the launch to alert people about the fee.

Most of the 175 boaters who used the popular launch over the holiday weekend after a closure of nearly two years found the fee box and paid the $10.

But Neiditz isn’t surprised some folks missed it. He stopped by the launch twice in the past week and noticed the lack of signs. On Tuesday, word of boaters’ anger over the hefty penalty reached his desk.

By Friday, he had ordered his staff to add more signs, review the city’s books on boat launch fines and dismiss the tickets.

The city sent letters Friday explaining to the affected boaters why they didn’t have to pay the fine. Crews also installed large temporary signs at the collection machine; a permanent sign is supposed to be installed next week.

Morris Quimby, a Lakewood resident of some three decades, talked to upset boaters when he dropped by the launch last Saturday.

Paying up to $500 for not seeing an obscure pay station is ridiculous, he said.

A driver approaching the boat launch might barely notice the machine in his rearview mirror, but only if he’s lucky and his boat trailer doesn’t block his sight lines, said Quimby, a boater who doesn’t use this launch and consequently didn’t get a ticket.

“I walked to within four feet of the collection machine before I could read the sign on it,” he said in an e-mail. “The public needs to be made aware of this rip-off.”

When told about the city dismissing the fines Friday, Quimby said, “That’s great. That’s exactly what it should be.”

As for the size of the fine, Neiditz said it’s been in place since before he took over as city manager four years ago. Staff members will review the ordinance, although he’s not guaranteeing the amount will change.

Other governments that charge launch fees say their fine is less than $500, if they have one at all.

In Pierce County, Lake Tapps and Spanaway Lake are staffed, eliminating the potential for launching without paying.

“Basically, if you don’t pay your fee, you don’t get to launch your boat,” county spokesman Hunter George said.

Possibly adding to the confusion at American Lake was the fact that the city didn’t charge a fee when it opened the boat launch May 16. It was Lakewood’s way of saying “Thanks” to boaters who waited for the $1.2 million renovation of the facility.

Mary Dodsworth, the city’s parks and recreation director, said the temporary and new signs will remove any doubts and excuses for scofflaw boaters.

“It’ll be in big red letters,” she said, “so if you couldn’t see it the first time, you will now.”

Brent Champaco: 253-597-8653