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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jul. 3, 201412:00 PM EST

Insurance talks slow return of water taxis

by: David Chapman

When thousands of people flock Downtown Friday for the Independence Day fireworks show, they won’t have the luxury of crossing the river with a water-taxi service.

There was some hope the service could have been up and running on a short-term basis by the holiday, but a deal that hoped

to make that possible is still

under review for insurance and liability.

Beaver Street Fisheries owner Harry Frisch is attempting to buy two pontoon boats the city initially bought weeks ago but never officially took receivership.

He would then lease the boats back to the city for use, but he wants to be held harmless while they are in operation for short-term use.

Mayor Alvin Brown’s administration bought the boats in early June as an emergency without City Council approval, making it an unauthorized purchase. Less than a week later, it sought almost $339,000 back from the boat seller.

The latest deal would have the seller refunding the city the money and Frisch buying the boats.

Frisch has been working on the deal through council member Matt Schellenberg, who said Wednesday it would be finalized “sooner rather than later” but not in time for the weekend.

Pam Roman, a city spokeswoman on the issue, confirmed that attorneys are finalizing the last section of the deal concerning insurance.

And while the first boat, the 50-seat Sea Charm 1, is at an Ortega marina, the second boat still has not arrived in town.

The hope was that vessel, the 102-passenger Lady L, would arrive today, Schellenberg said. Roman, though, said late Wednesday it’s now expected to arrive Tuesday.

Once a deal is finalized, the city has a preferred vendor in place for short-term service.

Atlantic Beach-based Multi Marine Services Inc. would take on such operations, a plan City Chief Administrative Officer Karen Bowling discussed almost a month ago when the company that provided the water-taxi service ceased local operations.

Jimmy Hill, Multi Marine’s owner, said he and his crew are ready to step up.

“We’re sitting on go to do it,” Hill said.

Hill said insurance for such an option has been drafted and he would work with the bulk of the employees from the former operator as much as he could. The advantage to that, he said, is the experience and talent the group has with knowing that part of the St. Johns River.

Hill’s company specializes in assisting the motion-picture industry for water-based shots, in addition to working closely with the annual Southeast US Boat Show.

He hasn’t operated a water taxi, but said his business is tailored for the job and it wouldn’t be a problem.

Hill said his goal is to have the service back up and running, as he considers it “part of the life of Downtown.”

Under the short-term deal, the city would provide Multi Marine the boats, with the company paying all expenses and keeping all revenue.

Before any boat could hit the water, though, it would first have to pass inspections by the U.S. Coast Guard.

That entails the captain and crew going through drills — such as a man-overboard exercise — and ensuring safety procedures and operational equipment is properly working.

Coast Guard policy is to have those inspections complete within 30 days, according to Lt. William Williams, but the local sector in Jacksonville is flexible.

Depending on the schedule, he said, those inspections could be done sooner.

Williams said Monday if the paperwork and other requisites were properly done, an inspection could be completed in about two hours.

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