Shelter Island boat ramp revamp

Extent of disruption at what could be California's busiest launch spot

Shelter Island boat ramp
  • Shelter Island boat ramp

On April 11, the Port of San Diego board of commissioners will consider approving a contract for improvements to the Shelter Island boat-launch facility (2210 Shelter Island Drive). Originally constructed in the 1950s, the ramp is believed to be the busiest in California, with an estimated 50,000 launches a year, according to the port. The project’s goal is to make the launch more navigable and safer.

Shelter Island boat ramp today

Shelter Island boat ramp today

The lowest bidder was R.E. Staite Engineering, coming in at $8.6 million. Staite is a local firm that worked on a big south San Diego Bay restoration project. Four other bids came in between $9.5 million to $14.1 million.

According to Rafael Castellanos, vice chairman of the port’s board of commissioners, the majority of the approximately $9.5 million budget is coming from grants ($6.1 million from the California Division of Boating and Waterways and $3.3 million from the California Wildlife Conservation Board).

Castellanos said that if the board approves a contract at the April 11 meeting, work will commence in May and finish in March 2018.

Architectural rendering of finished improvements

Architectural rendering of finished improvements

He said about the improvements, “The new boat launch will have walking platforms with viewing decks surrounding the launch basin. It will be a bigger basin so more people can use it with less congestion. It will just be easier and more functional with a nicer public access. It will be ADA compliant.”

The basin will be made 80 percent larger and the docks will extend from 130 feet to 480 feet. The worn-out boat launch will also be replaced and signage and lighting will be added.

“They do want to do it in phases so it’s not totally inactivated for the whole period. I’m not sure about the sequence, but I do know they want to do it as fast as possible.”

Castellanos said the last set of major improvements at the boat launch were in the 1970s. He also said that after the improvements, “We should be able to handle more than 50,000 launches a year with less of a hassle.”

Boaters might find these alternate ramps more expedient when launching

Boaters might find these alternate ramps more expedient when launching

During construction, the boat launch will be subject to closures except during the summer months when one lane will remain open. Because of expected delays, the port is recommending the use of other boat-launching facilities, including a few in Mission Beach.

Glyn Fricker has been on the water his entire life. By the time he was two years old, he had already been around the world by boat. Originally born in Australia, Fricker has been on local waters for about 20 years. He said he’s down at Shelter Island about three to four times a week. He talked to me while he worked on his boat.

“I have some concerns about the design, because the new design will catch a lot of kelp. It will be a full-time job for someone to pull all that kelp out.”

Also, “My concern is that the money will run out and it won’t be completed on time. You don’t get that much for $10 million, especially toward the water. For a barge, it costs $25,000 a day; for cranes, another $15,000 to $20,000. I’m concerned that the cost will run-over….

“Having that lump sum of money and saying, ‘Let’s do something with it’ is different than the port having the will to do the project and then footing the bill.”

Seal Tours is said to have a contract with the port that enables priority access to the Shelter Island ramp.

Seal Tours is said to have a contract with the port that enables priority access to the Shelter Island ramp.

Fricker said he isn’t sure how one lane at the boat launch in the summer is going to work for locals, especially considering Seal Tours has a contract that reputedly gives their amphibious vehicles priority access at all times. Add to that all the charters needing to launch, and it doesn’t seem to him that this is going to be smooth sailing for locals.

“The launch ramp is used by a lot of charter operators, a lot of unlicensed operators. The Coast Guard wants to crack down on them. It just seems every time I turn around, there is another tourist operation. It needs to be addressed. Every time a charter boat comes down, they should have to pay the port for using the ramp.”

Fricker said the absence of the ramp during construction will result in other problems. “Dana Landing [in South Mission Beach] will get crazy. And the parking is going to be a big problem. There have been violent altercations in South Mission over parking. There have been situations at the ramp where things get heated. There are security concerns, especially with people from out of the area because they can just walk away.”

Updates on the project as it moves along can be found here.

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