DUNEDIN — An investigation into a boat fuel spill at the city marina continues, sparking comments from city commissioners at their Dec. 15 meeting.
Commissioner John Tornga raised questions about actions that city officials are taking against two boat slip renters at the marina stemming from a late September spill. They have both received termination notices of their slip rentals.
At issue is whether the boaters knew about the spill and tried to hide it.
Tornga said perhaps the city has a policy problem involving the matter and he was not sure what city officials are trying to accomplish. Noting that he was boater, he said the fuel spill is a common accident.
"And if you ever tried to find a leak in a boat in a fuel system, everyone will tell you that it can be thousands of dollars and take thousands of hours, and they found their problem and fixed it," Tornga said.
One of the boat owners was simply trying to help, he said.
"I would have jumped on that boat and done the same thing they did," Tornga said.
He was referring to Eric Curtis, who lives on a boat in the marina with his 13-year-old son and his dog. The slip renter whose boat had the spill is Dunedin resident Carolyn James.
Responding to Tornga's remarks at the Dec. 15 commission meeting, City Manager Jennifer Bramley said the way the issue was presented to her was that it was a substantial spill, and there was knowledge of it by the two slip renters.
She spoke with both Curtis and James and got their versions of events. Also present were City Attorney Nikki Day and an attorney for the two slip renters.
"I spoke with staff, and every story has two sides," Bramley said.
She said there are rules and procedures within the marina that need to be followed consistently.
"We need to support staff throughout the city as they administer those rules and those procedures," Bramley said.
The other side of the story as conveyed to Bramley, she said, was that the spill was an accident and there really wasn't prior knowledge that fluids were leaking into the water.
Bramley said she has spoken to agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard, the city fire department and one eyewitness on the pier.
The attorney for the slip renters has asked for more time, she said, which city officials have provided.
"They feel they have additional information, which will help us make this decision," Bramley said.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski asked Bramley what she wanted moving forward. Bramley said she wants to get additional information that would impact the situation and then make a decision.
City Attorney Nikki Day said city officials asked for the information by Dec. 30 to accommodate an attorney involved who had a loss in the family.
Besides that, Bramley said she needs to make a call to another individual who claims to be a witness to the event.
Tornga said the entire investigation being discussed has nothing to do with what he is talking about: fuel coming out of a bilge pump accidentally.
"Something is wrong with this where we have a person that jumps on a boat to try to help somebody, and now they are getting kicked out because they knew about it," he said.
Bujalski said city officials were trying to determine what the slip renters knew about the spill and when. She disagreed with Tornga's assessment.
"Was it blatant or not? That's the determination based on fact," she said. “You're saying, you have come to a conclusion that it wasn't," Bujalski said. "She (Bramley) hasn't come to that conclusion yet."
Bramley said the reason she moved forward with the termination was because it was presented as blatant.
"What I'm looking for is those objective views of what happened," she said. "The folks who are writing in are very passionate; I understand."
But she also said she is disregarding hearsay.
"I’m talking to people who were there, that saw it," she said.
Day said her role is to advise the city of its rights under the use agreement that each slip renter has signed. It's not a landlord-tenant relationship.
"This word eviction continues to be used in reporting or discussing this item, and I think that is overly sensationalizing the topic," she said.
Curtis said at the Nov. 19 meeting that he got an eviction notice because he was helping another slip renter, James.
"I don't even know what to say. There is nothing in the agreement and there is nothing in the things that (say) I have to report to the city about somebody else's issues," he said at that meeting.
A fuel leak, he said, is not intentional.
"It just happens," he said. "I offered her help by giving her oil-absorbent blankets."
James, also speaking at the Nov. 19 meeting, said she was asked to leave the marina by Dec. 1.
"I waited a long time for that slip, and I enjoy my time there," she said.
The fuel spill, caused by a bad hose, was cleaned up a day after the incident occurred, she said.
It wasn't hidden, and people on the dock were trying to help, she said.
"I'm being told I was kicked out because I was trying to hide it," James said.
A capful of oil can spread 6 feet or more, she said.
"It looks like a lot, but it is really a small amount," she said.
The repairs were made the day after the spill.
James didn't know she had to report the incident to anyone. She said she heard about the spill from a neighbor and went to the marina immediately.
"I have a boat slip that I pay for every month for three years without incident," James said.
She makes improvements her boat constantly, she said, such as electric, plumbing, flooring and a windshield top.
"It's in great condition," she said.
She thinks there should be a more appropriate lease agreement between the city and slip renters.
"As it is now, we may be asked to leave for any reason," she said, "or no reason. This is one-sided and needs attention as soon as possible."
Carolyn James tells city commissioners an investigation into a fuel leak from her boat was one-sided.