Biloxi harbor loses out on DMR boat slip fees

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - If you're in the market for a large recreational fishing boat, the Department of Marine Resources may have just the deal for you. Two DMR boats are now up for sale.

While selling the boats may make good financial sense for the agency, the harbor that has kept watch over the boats for three years may not be so lucky.

The Topaz and Californian are docked at the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor, and have been there since 2010. No fees were ever charged for the spaces, which harbor officials say are valued at $20,000.

Until two months ago, they belonged to a private foundation operated by the fired former director of the DMR, Dr. Bill Walker, then donated to the DMR in a deal brokered by the state auditor's office.

That caught harbor officials off guard.

"The leases were signed as DMR boats, so we provide free slips for the DMR and that's what we've been doing, providing a free slip for the DMR boats," Port Manager Larry Sablich said.

We asked Sablich if he was surprised the boats didn't belong to the DMR?

"As a matter of fact, Doug, I just found that out over the last week or so. I've been speaking with a guy at DMR and it's new to me," Sablich said.

There may be hope for the harbor to collect at least some of the money.

"We're going to have to talk to the port commission about those fees and come to some sort of resolution," DMR Spokesperson Melissa Scallon said.

Why are the boats being sold?

"These are recreational boats," she explained. "The boats we use are more for marine patrol and that sort of thing. So, since we don't really need those boats, we're going to go ahead and sell them."

I did talk to a marine appraiser, who declined an on camera interview, but told me the Topaz should appraise for about $140,000 and the California for about $190,000. But the DMR would be very lucky to get that. The best case scenario is selling them for about $250,000 total.

So where will that money go?

"We could apply it to the deficit this year; we could apply it to the deficit we expect next fiscal year," Scallon explained. "We do have a few options, but more than likely, that's what will be done with the money."

That money may keep the DMR financially afloat for the next few months.

Sealed bids on the boats are being accepted at the DMR from now through July 15th. The bids will be unsealed at the monthly meeting of the Commission on Marine Resources on July 16th. If the bids on the boats come back too low, the CMR reserves the right to reject those bids.

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