Merrilees: Pollution, too much sand, fiscal mismanagement threaten our Harbor (Op-Ed)

Most people don’t follow Harbor District issues, but here are some reasons you should.

Reason #1: Water Pollution

Put your coffee and blueberry muffin down. Ready?  People live full time in Pillar Point Harbor, but their boats don’t have sewer connections.  As you read this, someone may be emptying their sink or toilet into the harbor.  How can this be stopped?  By doing what other harbors have been doing for decades, from not allowing live-aboards (Coyote Pt Marina) or requiring dye tablets in boat holding tanks (Avalon Harbor), to installing individual sewer connections on special live-aboard docks (Sausalito).  Living on a boat can be an affordable choice for some, but this is not the third world, and it is not 1910.   We owe it to our marine life, our swimmers, and fish consumers to raise the level of harbor water quality consistent with America, in 2012.   This has been a problem for decades, and it is time to step up.

Reason #2: Sand

Pillar Point Harbor is quickly filling with sand, while our beaches surrounding the harbor are losing sand. Coincidence?  Sand would normally migrate down the coast to replenish county beaches, except the harbor breakwater is in the way.   This puts our downstream beaches, roads, bike paths, surf spots, and neighborhoods at risk.

Whose responsibility is it to move the sand? The County of San Mateo or City of Half Moon Bay can’t move the sand, it’s not in their jurisdiction.  The only agency that has the authority is the Harbor District, which puts the future of much of our coastline right in the hands of the Harbor District Commissioners. As every day passes without action, our local beaches get smaller, and our bike-paths, roads and neighborhoods are increasingly at risk from erosion.

Reason #3: Your Money

When the District talks about a balanced budget, they mean balanced after we add more than $4 million dollars of our property tax dollars to their 3 million dollar annual income.  Fees from slip rentals and building leases bring in only forty percent of the cost to maintain slips, buildings, and to pay for the debt used to create slips and buildings.  You are subsidizing sixty percent of the cost of every slip, every building, and every parking lot that the Harbor District provides. Even if you don’t own a boat or lease a harbor building.  Where does all the money go?  In the past, Harbor District Commissioners–who meet once a month largely out of sight of the public–have voted to give themselves lifetime health benefits.  In the future, they may vote to have you build them a new harborfront office building.   If used wisely, our tax dollars could be used to improve water quality, replenish beaches with sand, and provide beach access and recreational opportunities for the public.  4 million dollars a year is a lot of money.

Sewage, Sand and $ are three important reasons to care look carefully at the Harbor District election this year, and into the future. The health of our children, harbor marine life, beaches as well as our wallets, are at stake.

Op-Ed by Neil Merrilees. Neil is a candidate for the San Mateo County Harbor District.

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