Says existing seawall isn’t good fit for transient boaters, offers alternative
By Joshua Maloni
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours President John Kinney has proposed a docking system for the waterfront area parallel to his operation’s staging area. He said the seawall there, as is, is not practically usable for transient boaters – or even for WJBT. Kinney would like to reconfigure the area to better accommodate his patrons. He has offered to donate his existing adjacent docking area to the municipality for the betterment of transient boaters.
Kinney’s plan is expected to be on the agenda at the Village of Lewiston’s monthly meeting on Monday, Aug. 21.
Over the weekend, some residents expressed concern via social media correspondence. A few went so far as to suggest Kinney is just arbitrarily taking portions of the waterfront.
On Monday, Kinney explained his lease allows for such improvements to his business – improvements, he noted, that ultimately benefit the community.
He said the amount of new docking space that would be taken up under his proposal “is negligible” relative to the space his existing docking area utilizes. “There is not a net loss by the village, or a net gain from Whirlpool, for configuring the docks the way we have.”
Moreover, Kinney said the seawall, in its present form, is wasted space.
To demonstrate that point, Kinney boarded a 19-foot boat and tied off on the dock area in question. Onboard, he stood several feet below the top of the seawall.
“Given our wet summer, our water levels have actually maintained very high here and, between now and the end of September, we’re going to lose another 18 inches of water here,” Kinney said, noting the climb would only get more challenging as summer sets.
“This is what people would have to do to utilize this seawall, is to climb up here,” he said. “The issue is this: The seawall was built due to the flooding (in 2017 and 2019), which is great. But the problem is, this seawall … the issue at hand is where do our transient boats go. Transient boats could never use this anyway – unless you’ve got a 60-footer. A 60-footer would probably mate up with this.”
Kinney said most boats in the Niagara Region are between 18 and 24 feet long. “They’re never going to be able to use (this Village of Lewiston) seawall in this present form,” because of the effort needed to get up the wall.
Instead, Kinney has offered to gift the village his existing docking system.
“We said, ‘Well, I'll tell you what, we've got something we can do. We can reconfigure our docks, make this more utilitarian, and create a transient docking area that people can actually get into,’ ” he said.
Reiterating his first point, Kinney said his staff has seen “zero” boats tied up on the seawall.
“We have a seawall that can't accommodate any boats. And, you know, I consider myself to be reasonably fit, but to get back up here like this (is a challenge),” he said, as two people gave him a lift.
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours President John Kinney stands on a boat to demonstrate the distance between this vessel and the top of the seawall he seeks to modify.
Details of WJBT Lease, Vision for Lewiston Waterfront
“We entered into an agreement with the village in ’96,” Kinney said. “At that point in time, we were tenants here. We made the decision to purchase the Riverside Inn and make the improvements to the property – and dare I say, the start of the improvement to the waterfront.
“I will tell you that (Mayor) Anne (Welch) deserves the lion's share of the credit for making this happen down here. Ernie Murdoch, about 45 years ago, he built this waterfront down here, and it's remarkable that it held up as well as it did, for as long as it did. We had some pretty crazy flooding here in ’17 and ’19.
“But, when we came to the village, we said that we were going to improve the facilities here and make the waterfront more accessible, both for jetboaters and for the boating community.
“We needed to know that we were on solid ground here, and so we agreed to a 40-year lease. That 40-year lease, I didn't have any back out on it. I was committed to it. And so, the residents of Lewiston have benefited from that influx of money on an ongoing basis in the waterfront, which, compared to what it was then to what it is today, I think the residents have done very well for themselves.”
For 2023, WJBT is slated to pay the municipality a base rent of $15,000, plus 1.5% of gross sales, for a maximum rent of $45,000.
Kinney said WJBT entered into a new docking configuration agreement with the Village of Lewiston in the fall of 2002.
“What happened before the project was there were two transient slips here that had great difficulty getting in. So, we agreed to move (our passenger loading docks) all down for the betterment of these two slips. Because of the crosscurrents here, that continued to be problematic. And so, I said, ‘You know what I'll do? I will reconfigure my docks into the configuration that we have here,’ so there would be no conflict with the first slip there.
“Again, these are things that I did all on my own accord, at our expense, etc., etc. So, when you move this down, this corresponds into about 12 feet that this dock had to be moved further down.”
Kinney said another docking reconfiguration was agreed upon in the fall of 2020. He presented a letter from Empire State Development stating a matching grant was awarded for the current seawall project as part of the Lake Ontario Business Resiliency Program.
“Our application was accepted in February ’21. So, the village has been aware of what we've been doing down here for a long time,” Kinney said. “It's been frustrating to me that there's been a suggestion that I'm just down here winging it. Since February of ’21, the village knew that we were going to improve our docking facility, as per the specifications that are dictated by Empire State Development in this grant.”
He continued, “Now, as the timing of this progressed, obviously, there was a major project going on with the seawall here, and there was an Army Corps permit, which allowed for a certain amount of docking to be added to the area. And so, what happened was, in January of ’23, I submitted to the village our docking plan; and (engineer) Mike Marino reviewed that, and it called for four sections of dock being added. Under the Army Corps permit, the amount of square footage that could be added to it on the existing permit only allowed for three sections of docking. So, hence, we are adding three sections, not four.”
Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours President John Kinney has presented a plan to install a new docking system at this seawall, and he has offered to gift the existing adjacent docks to the Village of Lewiston.
Each dock would be 40 feet long, and there would be a gangway that is about 25 feet long.
Kinney said these docks would be “exactly the same size as the existing docks … but configured in a way that is along a very high seawall that will make that seawall be able to be used as a seawall.”
He stated, “We have taken a seawall that, in its present form, cannot be used by the boating public, and it cannot be used by Whirlpool in its present form. At our expense, we drove the pilings necessary to accommodate a new docking program here, which would make that seawall usable.
“And then we agreed that, if the village really wants to have docks that transients can actually dock in – because anybody that really knows and watches anybody try to dock in this crosscurrent here, if you haven't done it many, many times, it's a tricky thing. And so, by allowing those docks to stay where they are, you're going to be docking parallel to the current, not perpendicular to the current. It would be a much more successful way to have transient docking.”
Kinney noted, “As far as the finances of transient docking … I have no intention of making any money on transient docking. My donation of our docking system to allow boats to dock here is strictly for the convenience of the boating public in Western New York. There's no profit motive or anything such as that as to why we're doing this.
“We spent the money necessary to upgrade our docks because we think having a matching docking system so there's a contiguousness between the village slips and ours is ultimately very good for the aesthetics and the functionality of this waterfront; and the fact that, in its present form – and again, our water has remained very high this year because of how wet of a summer it's been – what we showed in a pictorial manner down there is, in future summers, only going to be more dramatic.”
Portions of the Village of Lewiston waterfront and docks.
Village of Lewiston Response
Mayor Anne Welch said, “We're not giving anything away.”
“(Kinney) was always going to reconfigure his docks,” she said. “We asked him to, because, originally, it was down closer to where our slips were. He was going to move it over anyway; and then he came back with this idea to reconfigure it.”
“He was asked previously by the board to move his docks over to reconfigure them so that we could use the end slip better, because the person that rented the end slip, he didn't even use it the one year, because he said that he had a hard time getting in and out around the jet boats. So, that's why we asked him to move it over and reconfigure the dock, which he was going to.”
Welch added, “It's on his dime, not ours. The bulkhead where we would like to have transient spots, nobody could use them, because there's a 6-foot drop to the water; so, nobody can use that dock at all.”
With regard to the waterfront, Welch said she is keenly aware of the public’s desire to see it remain accessible.
Following the 2019 flooding, she was appointed to then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative Commission and secured $1.2 million to restore the village docks.
“When I took office, they were in shambles,” Welch said. “The flooding had totally wiped them out. …
“It's the same docks that we have, same company – everything. It's just a continuation of what we've already put down there on Lewiston Landing.”
She said, “The waterfront will continue to remain accessible to the public, and hopefully we can offer some transient slips.”
Marino explained the seawalls had to be raised in response to the historic high-water events.
“That was all constructed as part of the REDI funding, because of all the Lake Ontario flooding, and the water level, pretty much back when that was being constructed,” the village’s engineer said. “The water level ended up being 2 feet higher than where the existing wall was. We were right at the limit of where the water level was – and that was the higher level. So, because water down in that area came up about 2 feet when we had the issue with Lake Ontario, and kind of the top of that middle section wall, the new constructed wall, is kind of where the water was.
“It's obviously substantially gone down now. We raised all of that area 2 feet, in accordance with the guidance we got through the REDI Commission and everything else because of the Lake Ontario issues.
“But we recognize, as well, like what existed all through Lewiston Landing was the fixed docks. It's like, ‘Boy, if we have rental slips in here that are all at that fixed level, and we raise them all 2 feet, what happens if the water goes back down to a previous level? So, we're putting the floating docks in’ – which we did; we put floating docks everywhere. But there was only so much money available to do things, and there wasn't a lot of formal finger docking space at the south end near Kinney's place. So, we worked within the available funding, and have kind of the slip down there that Neptune (Ski Club) is using now.
“But the intent was kind of to see what happens with that situation. If you have a big enough boat, I suppose, you could side dock to there and use that area. But the understanding was, yes, that area is definitely difficult for transient boats to use, unless you have a very large boat.
“So, it was kind of an eye on the future of like, when we can pursue future grants or other funding, that we would probably extend that south finger dock that's out there that Neptune’s using and kind of build off of that, to put another gangway and other finger docks in there – if there was demand for it, so that they were more easily accessible.
“There's no doubt, in that kind of section between where the jet boat is and that Neptune dock, unless you have a very large transient boat, it's not ideal. No doubt about that. Because the water level has receded.
“If the water level goes back up 2 feet higher than it was, well, that's going to change the story a little bit. But the intent was always in the future to put some kind of floating dock system in there.”
He said, “If we had much more money and funding, we probably would have continued putting floating docks – more fingers – down that south end. But we worked within the confines of the money we had, and kind of looking at the number of spaces – because I think there might have been a couple of more fixed docks at the south end. But the number of spaces that were created under the new system were equal to or greater than what we had. So, we kind of just said, ‘Alright, well, Neptune needs to be away and that, so, we'll construct one, and then in the future, we can apply for more grants and try to get some other dockage down there.’ Just because, if the water level had receded back down, you're going to have that big sidewall.
“The cleats are up there; you can tie a boat off, but it would have to be a large boat, unless the water came up. It was no doubt. Any of us that would have a boat would have a long way to get up there.”