November 25, 2014

Dispute leaves Oregon Inlet
Fishing Center lease up in the air

By CATHERINE KOZAK


Oregon Inlet Fishing Center will be operated under an extended contract for another year while the National Park Service reevaluates terms that were rejected in October by the center’s board.

Neither the Park Service nor representatives of Oregon Inlet Fishing Center Inc. would elaborate on details of the disagreement, but both parties profess to want to find a solution.

“We’re reevaluating,” said Joanne Blankenship, NPS concessions management specialist.  “I’m not sure what’s going to happen at this point. That’s why we’re giving the current concessionaire another year extension. We don’t want to stop operations  -- it’s a visitor service.”

After 40 years running the marina, the board of the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center last year had to bid for a 10-year contract to run the business that was founded in the 1960s by some of the original charter boat captains on the Outer Banks.

The Park Service, the owner of the facility within Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the north side of the Oregon Inlet, had extended the solicitation period until February for the prospectus it had released in June 2013. After a review of the Fishing Center’s bid, the Park Service offered a contract. It was turned down.

“The contract that they had presented,” said Kenneth Brown, the board’s vice-president, “it has quite a few differences in it than it had in the past. We are in the process of trying to find a common ground with the Park Service to try to keep Oregon Inlet Fishing Center a viable business.

“Right now,” he added, "the ball is in the Park Service’s lap.”

Bill Reynolds, spokesman at the NPS regional headquarters in Atlanta, said that there was apparently a dispute with the bidder – he would not confirm the name -- over the parameters of the contract, although “they submitted their bid based on the prospectus.”

Conditions in the document bidders reviewed included for the first time a requirement to pay a minimum franchise fee of 4 percent. In addition, the new concessioner would be responsible for maintenance of the facility and would be required to follow federal bidding and construction guidelines.  Insurance coverage would also have to increase to $6 million from the previous $300,000.

The new 10-year concession contract would also require a year-round operation that offered headboat and charter fishing, marina services and a retail/grocery store. The contract was initially expected to begin in spring 2014.

Subcontractors, with approval of the agency, would be permitted to run services, and the concessioner could provide its own fleet of charter boats and captains.

Captains are currently sub-contractors in the existing concession agreement, which has been held by the same corporation since 1973. The 1998 contract expired in December 2013. A one-year continuation of service agreement under the terms of that contract was issued in January by the Park Service and will again be issued in January 2015.

Reynolds declined to say how many total bids were submitted, or provide details about the prospectus and the proposed contract.

 “We are not at liberty to discuss it because we are now again back in the process,” he said. “Since the contract was never signed, that process was never completed."

The Park Service, he added, is forbidden from making any changes in the prospectus without going through the mandated procedures.  Regulations also limit the amount of disclosure that is permitted, he said, while the contract bid process is under way. He said he did not know when a new prospectus would be completed.

Blankenship said that the Park Service appreciates the benefits of the Fishing Center to the community and hopes to be able to work out a mutually acceptable agreement. 

Meanwhile, the public won’t notice any difference in the operation for at least another year.

“We haven’t asked them to change anything,” she said. “It’s status quo.”

Brown said that he does not want to jeopardize the good working relationship the company has with the Park Service by talking about its issues with the rejected contract. But he said he is optimistic that any conflict can be resolved.

“We’ve been there for 41 years, and we want to be there for another 41 years,” he said. “Our main goal is to provide the very best experience for Oregon Inlet Fishing Center that we can. I’m hoping that when all this smoke clears, we’re still there.”

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