CITY OF TONAWANDA — A request by a promoter looking to run handicapped-accessible paddle boat rentals from the increasingly crowded boat launch beneath the City of Tonawanda's Erie Canal foot bridge drew objections Tuesday from a longtime rental operator.
Robert Rollaine asked the council to consider granting him about 30 feet along the creek wall — near a wheelchair ramp leading to the water — to install a special floating dock he said will enable disabled residents (or anyone else) to board three pedal-driven boats with backup electric motors.
"My main purpose is thinking about handicapped and disabled people," he said. "There's handicapped access there, but no handicapped (accessible) activities."
He said 5 percent of the gross revenues he generates from the $10 to $15 per hour rentals would go to the city, and another 5 percent would be donated to the historical society.
But Jim Chilton, longtime operator of Waterbike Adventures, also runs a kayak rental operation from a city-owned floating wooden platform that he rents for $125 per month and 5 percent of his revenues.
For 12 years Chilton has operated the business alone, until this spring, when the city council approved a plan by Ken and John Knight, local dealers of a compact catamaran made by Florida-based CraigCat, to launch 2-hour guided tours up and down the Niagara River.
The 11-foot hydro boats boast a 30-horsepower engine and have a top speed of 30 mph. Classified as open boats, Ken Knight said tourists would be required to follow a leader boat through sections of the Niagara River, with a tour guide pointing out various attractions over wireless headsets.
With all the new company on the dock, Chilton said there's simply no room for Rollaine's idea to work.
"I have no objections to his idea. My objection is we just don't have the dock space," he said. "He just wants to be where all the action is that I've developed over the past 12 years."
Rollaine said the nearby ramps are an integral part of his desire to cater to disabled customers, and in light of the issues raised by Chilton, alleged that Chilton is already using what he said is more of the dock than an agreement with the city stipulates.
"I'm not trying to step on his business," Rollaine said. "I think I would increase business because I am a promoter. I'm trying to bring commerce into this city."
Whether or not any room exists for Rollaine's plan is still very much debatable. The council did not act to accept or reject the proposal during Tuesday's meeting, with Alderman Blake Boyle saying he would have to personally visit the site prior to voting one way or the other.
On a separate note, CraigCat operator Ken Knight said the five boats that will be used for the canal and Niagara River's new guided tours could go in the water as soon as today.
No boating license is required for everyday citizens to drive the boats, which seat two. Tours include a brief training session, followed by about 20 minutes on the canal before heading out onto the river.
With a "lead boat" driven by a tour guide chatting about points of interest, four boats will trail, driven by customers in a cluster that travels to Navy Island and back.
Knight's tours will run at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and at 10 a.m. on Saturday, with the possibility of a sunset cruise from 7 to 9 p.m.
Unlike Chilton's rentals, however, the experience is decidedly pricier, at $69.95 for adults and $59.95 for those aged 12 to 16.
Contact reporter Neale Gulley at 693-1000, ext. 4114.