By Sue Botos
Tight city budgets over the past several years have caused rough seas for the Rocky River Police Marine Patrol. But now, the Cleveland Metroparks has thrown the unit a lifeline.
Last fall, the marine patrol received a federal grant for $266,000 to replace its boat Argus IV, a 14-year-old Boston Whaler that was showing its age. However, the city was required to provide a match of $60,000, an amount which could not be spared in the 2014 budget.
Cleveland Metroparks Chief Ranger Dan Velosky told West Life in a recent interview that the Metroparks board of directors, at its Feb. 20 meeting, formalized an agreement with the Rocky River Marine Patrol to provide the matching sum of $60,000 for a new boat.
“The Metroparks have always been interested in patrolling the water,” Velosky said. He added that with the acquisition of Cleveland’s lakeside parks, a presence on the water was desirable. “Thankfully, the city of Rocky River invited us to participate in the program,” he commented.
In addition, the Metroparks and the cities of Lakewood and Rocky River have agreed to collaborate on the matching $8,500 required by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) for the marine patrol’s annual operating grant.
Noting that there may be opportunities for dive teams to use the boat as a platform, Mayor Pam Bobst stated, “This partnership could be used to serve the city’s safety needs because of the many individuals who take advantage of the river for fishing and boating, as well as the lakefront.”
She continued that a strong partnership will also assist a growing number of those using kayaks, paddleboards and other equipment with which they have little or no experience.
The Rocky River Police Marine Patrol was launched in 1969, and has operated with a combination of ODNR grants and matching funds from the city. As the only regular Westshore police boat, the Argus IV and its predecessors once patrolled the Rocky River and Lake Erie seven days a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day, from Edgewater to Avon Point.
Budget cuts and the aging boat have caused the schedule to be reduced in recent years, to summer weekends, holidays and special events, such as last year’s Tall Ships Festival and movie productions. All officers participating in the patrol do so in addition to their regular police duties.
The unit is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for emergencies. According to information provided by marine patrol head Sgt. Joe Boncek, the squad assisted the U.S. Coast Guard in 16 search and rescue missions plus four boating accidents in 2013.
Boncek said the new boat may be in the water by July. The 27-foot craft, with twin 300 HP engines, will be a foot longer and more powerful than the Argus IV. “Being able to walk around the outside of the cabin will be a big plus,” he said, noting the new boat’s enclosed cabin will make it easier to transport injured individuals and to operate the boat. “For once I’ll be able to work the lake without getting soaked,” he stated.
Velosky said that training logistics and scheduling have yet to be worked out, but he added that the first step will be for Lakewood and Metroparks officers to receive watercraft police training. After shadowing the Rocky River team this season, he said that all three units will be staffing the boat in 2015. “This is a great opportunity for us, and we have two great police departments at our side,” he stated.
While the present boat is usable, Bobst said, its engines are “past their useful life.” When the new craft arrives, she said, the Argus IV will be returned to the ODNR.
Traditionally, the marine patrol covered Lake Erie between Cleveland Harbor and Avon Point. Bobst said that because there was no offer of participation from any other jurisdiction aside from Lakewood and the Metroparks, the new patrol route will run between Rocky River and Edgewater Park.
Referring to the three-jurisdiction collaboration, Boncek commented, “This is the perfect marriage.”