By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
The National Park Service (NPS) is in search of a new long-term operator for the Fort Washington Marina in Prince George’s County, Md. The agency released a request for proposal (RFP) for the boatyard on June 20 and gave a September 5 deadline for submission.
This new RFP follows the NPS’ initial unsuccessful attempt to find a long-term operator in 2019. Fort Washington boaters and Prince George’s County residents have expressed their frustration with the conditions of the marina and the delay in finding a more permanent owner.
While the marina is in use, the restaurant and repair shop remain vacant, and the docks are in poor condition. Area boaters also cannot reliably use the site’s wet slips because the water has not been properly dredged in several years, causing a lack of water depth.
“The marina has been a great asset for Prince George’s County over the decades. It is one of the only predominantly-Black marinas in the Greater Washington region, but it’s also in the worst shape of any marina in the Greater Washington region,” said Councilmember Mel Franklin, at-large member of the Prince George’s County Council. “I’m pleased that the NPS has finally issued an RFP for a long-term operator so that we will have true reinvestment in the marina for the first time in several years.”
Fort Washington Marina’s prominent restaurant, Proud Mary, closed in 2018, after the NPS announced that it terminated its contract with the operator. According to an NPS press release, Proud Mary violated its contract, which required the restaurant to meet public safety standards, fire codes and financial obligations.
In the statement, NPS said it expected a new restaurant to open in early 2020, but that did not happen.
Currently, Trident Marine Group manages the marina, but because it’s a short-term operator, the company cannot engage in long-term investments.
“One of the region’s only majority-Black marinas being the worst shape of any marina in the region really raises questions about equity and whether African-American boaters are receiving a fair shake from the NPS in comparison to other marinas in the region,” said Franklin.
According to Carl Allen, vice commodore of the Fort Washington Boating Association (FWBA), one of the biggest hindrances to the NPS securing a long-term operator has been the costly dredging that needs to be done in the marina’s waterways. The 2019 RFP required the operator to shoulder the responsibility of paying for the dredging, which could cost more than $10 million, according to Allen.
The new RFP does not require the operator to handle the dredging.
“Typically, the owner would have to do the dredging, but most times, the owner would not have to pay out of pocket to do it. They would get the funding through federal or state grants and things of that nature,” said Allen. “In order to do that, you have to submit an application. We never even had an application submitted on our behalf until 2022 when Senator Cardin did it.”
In June 2022, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) announced that they requested $2 million for the dredging of Fort Washington Marina from the Senate Appropriations Committee for Fiscal Year 2023.
Allen said he thinks NPS should have taken care of the dredging before it came to that. The shallow water at the Fort Washington Marina has caused Allen to pay nearly $2,000 annually in repairs to his boat.
Although he thinks the RFP’s exclusion of dredging responsibilities could make the contract more attractive to applicants, Allen is concerned that the problem will not be fixed.
“There are many problems at the marina, but the major problem is the dredging. It’s a $10- to $13-million problem,” said Allen. “If the
] isn’t going to deal with it, and NPS isn’t going to deal with it, who’s going to deal with it? That’s my question.”
In addition to managing the dredging, Allen said the Fort Washington Marina must reconstruct the boat repair shop. He also wants the payment system for the boat ramp to be changed.
At present, Fort Washington Marina uses an honesty system and requires cash payment. Allen believes a number of boaters know about this and opt not to pay because there are no consequences.
“I think this is a direct assault on Fort Washington, and I say that because the NPS owns other marinas, and we’ve only asked that they keep ours in as they keep those,” said Allen. “The only thing we can see is the difference in color. We don’t want them to make us better than they are. We just want to be on par with them.”
Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.
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