Kevin Sprague

Duffy’s plans spur petition

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A group from the AMA Sportsmen Association have made it clear – they want a fishing wharf, marina and boat ramp at the site of the former Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn.

The Town of Amherstburg, owners of the property, seem open to keeping at least two of those amenities.

Brian Beattie and Kevin Sprague from the AMA Sportsmen Association appeared before town council Monday night to request input into the design process of the site and to ensure the wharf, marina and boat ramp were included.

Beattie believed more input and consideration was needed. He recalled an amphitheatre being built just south of the Duffy’s lands near the Caldwell Towers area years ago and “residents complained so much they had to tear it down.”

Sprague said he gathered 558 signatures on a petition that states “that a boat launch with an appropriate number of parking spaces for vehicles with boat trailers, a wharf and lookout with sufficient space that can be used for shoreline fishing and transient marina slips being incorporated into the final design of the Duffy’s lands.”

The town’s decision to purchase the Duffy’s site was an “awesome” one, Sprague believed.

“It’s a large piece of valuable property in the downtown core with huge potential that will be a popular future public asset,” he said. “Properties like this don’t come around very often and may never come around again anywhere even close to the downtown core.”

The majority of residents he spoke with said they want a boat launch, wharf for shoreline fishing and a small marina, stated Sprague. He said more feedback is needed and that the town’s “Talk the Burg” website, an online questionnaire and a public consultation with 25 people in attendance “is not properly providing anywhere close to an accurate representation of what the community needs and wants.”

“Amherstburg is the only municipality in Essex County with the exception of Tecumseh that has no public boat launch,” he said. “We have a few privately-owned boat launches but what happens when these private boat launches no longer exist, close or are sold for development or other uses? This could easily occur and there is zero guarantee that this won’t become a future reality. Residents who require a boat launch shouldn’t be force to drive to another municipality to launch a boat when our town is surrounded by water. Amherstburg needs an insurance policy to prevent this from ever becoming a reality.”

Sprague added that Amherstburg “has by far” the smallest public place for shoreline fishing in Essex County at “an embarrassing 53-foot long space. It’s sometimes so overcrowded that tourists drive for hours to fish in Amherstburg and leave with tickets because they are fishing outside of the permitted area. When parents, grandparents and children of our town have 53-feet of overcrowded and completely insufficient area to fish from, that’s wrong and the town’s fault for not addressing this problem many years ago.”

Residents don’t want the amphitheatre on the Duffy’s site, he added, and that a parking lot should be built on the site that could be used year-round. He acknowledged that it’s not as nice as trees or grass, but parking could be used by residents and tourists alike. He said the amphitheatre doesn’t have the support the town thinks it does.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said the wharf and marina are still part of the concept plan with the boat launch being the only thing in question.

“The issue is really the boat launch,” agreed CAO John Miceli. “The question is what do we do with parking for the boat launch?”

Councillor Rick Fryer said he agreed with the concept for Duffy’s but believed there should still be a boat launch at the site.

“The town should look at other places to park boat trailers and vehicles,” he said, even floating the idea of a valet service where someone could assist boaters by driving their trailers to a different site for them.

Fryer said he is hearing yes to a festival area at the site but no to an amphitheatre. He added there needs to be more room for people to fish.

“I’m a firm supporter of getting fisherman downtown,” he said.

DiCarlo said the Duffy’s project is currently in the environmental assessment stage and that funding will have to be secured for the project since there is a desire not to have it totally funded by the taxpayer. Optimistically, he hoped for shovels to be in the ground early next year.

The mayor said he did hear from people who signed the petition and believed there are some misconceptions. He said some he talked to thought a marina or boat ramp was being sacrificed for an amphitheatre and that he explained to them that all are still in the concept.

“The only thing left is the boat ramp,” he said.

Overall, DiCarlo said the Duffy’s concept has been “well received” and that people are anxious to see it get started. He said there will be future opportunities for people to comment on the project.