City agrees to pay electric bill for Watermen's Cooperative COUNTYWIDE

November 11, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

A member of the Maryland Watermen's Cooperative, the struggling project once heralded as the savior of the area's seafood industry, pleaded with Annapolis officials yesterday not to make the winter more bleak by further jeopardizing the co-op's future.

Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, acknowledged the co-op has been victimized by costly delays and the decline of oysters and crabs in the Chesapeake Bay. But he asked a city panel to finish construction work and continue paying the electricity bill to keep the $1.3 million project going.

The electricity was about to be shut off Thursday in the former McNasby Oyster Co., a 100-year-old seafood plant in Eastport that the city renovated and leased to the watermen's co-op, when the City Council's Finance Committee approved paying the overdue $2,500 electric bill.

That was the latest hitch in a three-year battle to return seafood processing to the Annapolis waterfront. The three-member Finance Committee called yesterday's meeting to discuss the delays, some $200,000 in cost overruns, and why the co-op still isn't picking crabs and shucking oysters.

Eileen P. Fogarty, the city's director of planning and zoning, explained that state leaders initially supported reopening McNasby's as a way of revitalizing the once-robust seafood tTC industry. But the state appeared to lose interest at a time when the project faced additional expenses to meet unexpected environmental and health regulations, she said.

To the dismay of city officials and the watermen, state health inspectors refused to allow processing until the plant was renovated to meet stringent sanitation standards.

McNasby's wasn't finished in time for the summer crab season, and the co-op can't qualify for an oyster-shucking permit until a concrete ramp is poured to correct a violation near a walk-in freezer, the committee was told.

Mr. Simns submitted a two-page list of unfinished work and asked the city to continue paying the utility bills until it's completed.

But Emory Harrison, the city's director of central services, said in an interview two weeks ago that the work is finished. He did not attend the meeting.

Asked whether he has profited from the co-op, Mr. Simns acknowledged that it has not provided him with a stable market or greater independence from the tyranny of the wholesale seafood industry. "It's been a liability," he said.

But, he said the 55 watermen who own equal shares met recently and unanimously voted to keep the project going. "We're here to tell you that we're going to try in every way to make it work," he said.

Alderman John Hammond, R-Ward 1, who chairs the committee, left the meeting saying he better understood the problems and believes there's now "an impetus to move this thing off of dead center."

Mr. Hammond said he was reluctant when the project was first proposed, but believes the watermen can make it work once the problems are ironed out.

Members of the the committee will meet again tomorrow with City Administrator Michael Mallinoff to discuss the work and deal with an outstanding rent payment from the Watermen's Cooperative.

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