As they wait for more facts on the operation of Wilmette Harbor, Wilmette Park District commissioners do have an idea of how some area residents feel about the district’s potential future as a harbor manager.
Dozens of residents and harbor users attended Monday’s Park Board meeting, and while several speakers urged the district to keep out of the harbor business, others told commissioners they would support Park District participation.
Wilmette residents Beth Beucher and Peter Nussbaum both asked the district to stop exploring the concept.
“The two questions are, why is the Park District actively seeking to acquire the lease, and is it in the public interest to do so,” asked Beucher, a member of the district’s lakefront commission and a resident of Sheridan Road. She said she feared the concept was simply a way for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which owns the harbor, to pass on to another public body the operations costs, including potentially catastrophic liabilities.
Nussbaum, who lives on Laurel Lane, agreed, saying “I don’t think it’s in the interest of the taxpayers of Wilmette to add this extra burden on to the taxes currently paid now.”
Forest Avenue resident Steve Bobo said he is concerned that the harbor’s tradition of close-knit volunteerism could suffer if the Park District became involved.
When asked if he would be concerned if a group other than the association or the Park District ended up managing the harbor — a possibility if the lease goes to public bid — Bobo said he didn’t think that was likely, because Wilmette Harbor’s small size might not make it commercially viable for another entity to become involved in.
Other boat owners and association members worried that Park District involvement could negatively affect the lengthy waiting lists for slip assignments, or change the nature of what type of boats moor in the harbor.
Not everyone disliked the idea of Park District participation.
“I believe the harbor is not just a recreational opportunity for Wilmette, I think it’s the premier recreational facility in Wilmette,” said Central Avenue resident Peggy Smith. “My understanding is that the harbor was formed with public dollars … I think it should be run by a body of people who are elected by the taxpayers, and not a private organization.”
Boat owner Kurt Harms, of Harbor Lane, said “I’d argue that this would actually be a huge financial gain” for the district, and suggested that the harbor could be expanded in future to raise the number of slips from 300 to 500.