New boat ramp ordinance in Orange County could hurt small businesses, owners say

Video: New boat-ramp ordinance could hurt small businesses, owners say

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Some small-business owners are worried that a new ordinance on all 11 boat ramps in the county could put them out of business.

The ordinance, which is currently under review by Orange County commissioners, would require $3,000 a year for a permit and a $1 million insurance policy to use the public boat ramps for commercial use.

This would include use of the only public boat ramp on St. John’s River for 40 miles, located in East Orange County.

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Business owners who use the boat ramp say it could put them out of business.

“It’s going to affect us big-time,” said Seth Whitaker, owner of Switchgrass Outfitters and Airboat Tours. “We’re small-business owners. We’re not rich.”

Seven companies launch airboats from the Orange County-owned ramp on Highway 50 near the Brevard County Line.

Derrick Lockhart owns Midway Airboat Rides, located across the street from the ramp. It’s the only brick-and-mortar airboat rental company in the area, and it gives property-tax dollars back to the county.

He said boaters should not be able to use public access to St. John’s River for private business.

Lockhart said he wanted to see a limit to how many companies could have permits. So far, the county hasn’t included that in its ordinance.

“There’s only a finite amount of space in the river,” Lockhart said.

Online business owners, including Whitaker, believe Lockhart is trying to force out the competition.

“We’re just worried because everybody should have a fair advantage to use our state waters,” Whitaker said.

The issue began in 2017. Commissioners said they plan to finalize the ordinance in January or February. If approved, it would also affect fishing guides, tournaments, rentals and paddle sports on St. John's River.