Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission requiring Sister Cities Park to register toy boats with state, have proper miniature flotation devices

Harrisburg, PA--The calendar's march toward the warmer months doesn't just signal time for shorts and water ice, it also means the toy sail boats at the hugely popular, one-year-old Sister Cities Park will soon emerge from a long winter of hibernation. The small wind-powered boats will navigate the shallow pond in the park much to the delight of the young wide-eyed onlookers. This season, however, park users may notice something a bit different about the miniature watercraft: a large registration sticker on the sail and action-figure sized, bright orange life jackets on deck.

In an effort to raise revenue, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is requiring toy boats in the Commonwealth over one inch in length which use state waters to register and have aboard the proper number of approved miniature flotation devices. Smaller, appropriately sized registration stickers will not be ready for this coming season. For this reason, all toy boats will unfortunately have to use full-size stickers. This may cause the tiny vessel to heavily list to one side, or cause the bow to hang low into the water, depending on the sticker's placement.

"Why don't they just wait a year," said a frustrated Dan Devlin, a model boat enthusiast from Pennsport in South Philadelphia. "The 3"X2" stickers will affect how the sails take wind and they will also dramatically change the boats center of gravity. Think, PFBC. Just wait until next summer when the tiny stickers are available." Devlin often takes his remote-controlled boat to an undisclosed location on the Delaware River waterfront on summer weekends and weeknights.

The miniature life preservers also required are made by a niche company located in Denmark, just outside of Copenhagen. Each jacket costs roughly $100 to make and the Commission wants each toy sailboat to have four flotation devices. The preservers are only sold through the Commission which adds a $150 markup fee.

"The cost of these mini preservers is astronomical," said Harriet Sommersby, vice director of parks for the City Center Association, the agency that manages the park. "We're talking about $1000 per toy boat. Plus, the Commission's boat registration fee of $18 for non-motorized crafts. We did not anticipate these costs. I mean, the boats themselves are worth only about $50 to $75. There are no tiny people on the boats. This is simply a way to make money."

The new regulation will cost the City Center Association nearly $20,000 (20 boats) to operate the nautical toys this summer. However, the William Penn Foundation has generously donated $15,000 towards the boats and one anonymous donor gave nearly $1000, which leaves a gap of about $4,000.

When asked why the model boats needed life saving devices the special assistant to the director of the PA Fish and Boat Commission hesitated, appeared annoyed, then offered the following explanation: "Do we really know if a group of miniature humans inhabit the planet? I mean, really. I don't think we do. Just because we don't see them doesn't mean they don't exist. What if these G.I. Joe-sized people decided to use these boats? Let's say they ran into trouble in the middle of a pond or fountain and the toy boat began to take on water. They should have the proper flotation devices to allow them to survive. It's only right. We owe them this much."

Some (actually, most) see the new policy as gouging the public for funds during difficult financial times. "I realize the economy is hurting everyone, including state agencies. These organizations are trying to get as creative as they can in developing ways to raise needed funds. Every agency is--and I really dislike this term--thinking outside the box like they never have before. This being said, however, this model boat life jacket requirement is simply ludicrous. Not a well thought out policy change at all," said University of Pennsylvania professor of public policy Dr. Trevor Anastasio.

"We can deal with the expensive, tiny life jackets," said Mayor Michael Nutter, "but the boats will not sail properly with the huge sticker. The kids will be very disappointed when the boats keep capsizing. I have a three-hour meeting planned with Governor Corbett about this toy boat issue. I promise to rectify the situation."

The Commission claims to have tested the boats in Sister Cites Park with the stickers and jackets affixed  but results were inconclusive.

No comments: