By Margie Plunkett
The buzz of Jet Skis on the Intracoastal Waterway likely won’t subside after Lantana’s Town Council denied issuing a business tax receipt to a rental company that serves the Ritz-Carlton. Captain Morgan’s Watercraft Rentals said it can continue to use the Sportsman’s Park area to launch its jet skis anyway.
The company’s request for the tax receipt for two Jet Skis drew protests from Intracoastal neighbors who objected to noise and added safety hazards from the watercraft. They also feared the business, which would serve Ritz guests as well as walk-ins, would ultimately grow and add more Jet Skis.
A contingent of residents, however, endorsed supporting a business whose operators said they educate renters on the use of Jet Skis and impose prohibitions in an effort to reduce safety risks. Resident-owned Jet Skis are also responsible for existing noise, they said. And advocates pointed out the business tax receipt gave Lantana a greater opportunity to control the company.
The company currently rents Jet Skis from the Ritz-Carlton location, but also transports clients to the Intracoastal, using the boat ramp at Sportsmen’s Park to launch and pick up the Jet Skis. It is now planning to rent private dock space nearby to store two of the Jet Skis so that it doesn’t have to transport them back and forth. The Intracoastal is the preferred location in rougher weather or for Jet Ski riders who are afraid of the ocean, the operators said.
“The Jet Skis are there. They will be there,” said Harvey Tucker of Captain Morgan’s. “We’re trying to eliminate our trailers and trucks there.” He also said that the marina they are renting space from has lost five boats in the last few months — so their rental business will help it and bring money to the town.
“If we do not get a license or tax receipts, we will still put the Jet Skis there,” Tucker later said. “We need no license to be there.”
When asked if the business was expected to grow, Tucker said, “God willing, maybe,” pointing out that it wasn’t likely in the current economy.
The operators said they follow all the Coast Guard rules. “We feel it’s safer from us than the public,” Tucker said. “We’re teaching them to operate safely.”
Renters, who are given a safety course, must be 18 years old — although the company is considering reducing the age to 16 — and are not permitted if they have been drinking. The company, which has been doing business with the Ritz for four months, has insurance of $5 million, the operators said.
Renters are instructed to use the watercraft south of the Lantana Bridge through Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, owner Morgan Baer said. “That’s really the widest and safest area to ride.” They’re not allowed to dock, beach or leave the vehicle, and must wear life jackets at all times.
“Jet Skis are often considered a nuisance. How won’t they be?” asked council member Elizabeth Tennyson, adding that rental companies often have problems finding locations for that reason. “Whether it’s a nuisance would be determined by the people living there.”
The operators said they use the quietest of equipment — that the four-stroke Jet Skis are equipped with mufflers and 82 percent quieter than diesel.
Erica Wald, who is an Intracoastal neighbor, said, “I have never seen a Jet Ski that doesn’t bother me. I’m going to be hearing them go round and round and round. It’s very noisy, it’s a nuisance. You are going to accommodate the Ritz-Carlton and these two nice gentlemen, and you are going to hurt every other resident.”
Jet Skis contribute to a dangerous scenario with fishing near the bridge and an abundance of fishing hooks there: “Someday, someone’s going to lose an eye,” resident Al Pezzuto said.
Other residents welcomed the business. “I think they’re doing us a service. They’re going to teach people what to do,” said Theresa Wilhelm. “We can’t stop people from using the lake. It’s not yours, it’s not yours, it’s not yours,” she said, looking to the crowd. “It’s open to the public.”
Christopher Smith said, “I think we should roll out the red carpet” to find and encourage businesses to come to town. And “having a layer of control by selling the license, the permit — you have more control. The noises will be there with or without those Jet Skis.”