Just like its mythological namesake, Rocky River’s marine patrol boat, Argus IV, has kept a “watchful eye” on North Coast waters for almost 13 years. But due to age and upkeep costs, this eye will be on guard only on weekends and holidays this year.
The city has received a $24,423 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for the operation of the Argus this season, but must match $8,000 of that cost, which covers fuel and maintenance.
At a recent City Council meeting, Mayor Pam Bobst explained that the operating cost for the marine patrol, which was launched in 1969, was not factored into the 2013 budget, and that the grant was applied for in December. She added that since the proposed purchase of an animal control vehicle has been scrapped, police Chief Kelly Stillman and finance Director Mike Thomas decided that the $8,000 was feasible to keep the boat afloat.
“That’s why (Sgt.) Joe Boncek requested that amount. That’s what the city could pay,” said Stillman in a recent interview, referring to the marine patrol’s officer in charge. He added that the reduced schedule began last season, but the boat will be on call for emergencies.
Traditionally, the Argus IV and its three predecessors patrolled the Rocky River and Lake Erie shores seven days a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day, from Edgewater Park to Avon Point. Two years ago, failure of both outboard engines put the boat in dry dock until Independence Day.
“The boat’s getting old, it takes a lot of wear and tear, and eventually will have to be replaced,” Stillman said. He said the motors alone could cost about $20,000 each.
During a typical boating season, the 26-foot Boston Whaler logs 1,600 miles, which is equivalent to about 100,000 miles for a car. The average recreational boater puts about 50 miles on an engine each year. The Argus IV was the first of the city’s marine patrol boats designed for law enforcement, the initial three being converted recreational craft.
As the only city marine patrol unit between Fairport Harbor and Lorain, the Argus IV works with the Coast Guard and the Ohio Division of Watercraft on rescue and recovery missions. Stillman said that while Lakewood also has a boat, it is part of the fire division, and is used in emergency situations. During its regular patrols, the officers aboard the Argus perform routine safety checks and other duties similar to their counterparts on land. This duty is in addition to their regular police work.
Bobst commented recently on the future of the marine patrol, stating, “There will come a time when the boat will have to be replaced if the program is to continue.” She said that the city is grateful for the ODNR grant, which comes from the state Waterway Safety Fund. This is largely made up of watercraft registration and titling fees, funding from the Coast Guard and a share of the state gasoline tax.
The program will continue to be evaluated, according to Bobst, who said that the city will request additional funds from ODNR. Talks with Cleveland Yachting Club members and the mayors of other cities had been unsuccessful in securing additional financial resources.
Stillman hoped the Argus will continue to ply the waters of Rocky River and Lake Erie, but he noted that the boat’s future is based on the economic climate of the city and the state. “If one of those two (options) falls through, we’ll have to seek other avenues,” he commented. He noted that the city is currently considering the most economical way to find a potential Argus V, including looking at used boats.
“The patrol is necessary, especially in our area where such a big part is surrounded by water, the Rocky River and Lake Erie,” noted Stillman, who added, “With all of the recreational boats coming from the river mouth into the lake, our presence would be missed.”