From $850 to $6,500 per season

Boat rigging company doing business at Rockport Harbor questions 624 percent increase in proposed town lease

Fri, 05/05/2023 - 8:00pm

    ROCKPORT — The owners of Skyhook Crane and Rigging LLC, Shane Laprade and Nathan Pickering, are questioning the Town of Rockport about a proposed 600 percent increase in a lease for operational space at Marine Park. They are on the agenda for the regularly scheduled Select Board meeting Monday, May 8, for discussion.

    According to the proposed lease (see attached PDF), Skyhook steps masts and helps to rig boats launched at Rockport Harbor.

    “Rockport finds that support of our mooring owners which use Rockport Harbor is in the public interest and that this Agreement furthers the objective of supporting boating industry,” the lease said.

    The proposed contract runs from April to December 2023. But it has not been signed, and the rigging season has begun.

    At issue is the increase in price to use a section of Marine Park at its northeastern end from from $850 to $6,500 per season. 

    In a May 3 email to Select Board Chair Michelle Hannan requesting placement on the Select Board agenda, Laprade wrote, “One of our concerns is that this conversation was initiated by us in an attempt to be proactive and our dismay at being dissuaded at our trying to consistently be included in any conversation that might be relevant to our presence in the harbor to being presented with a draft lease at the 11th hour. We are curious what decision was made and by whom 1) employ a lease agreement for our use of the harbor 2) how price points regarding harbor use are established.”

    According to Laprade, Skyhook has approximately 75 to 100 clients from the region, and they work on the boats primarily at the beginning and end of the sailing season, which is late spring and mid-autumn. In a January 11 letter to the Town of Rockport and the Harbor Committee, they said they operate for six to eight weeks from around Memorial Day to the Fourth of July, and again from Labor Day to November 1. See below for the full letter.

    They said they charge approximately $250 to $300 per job, which usually entails using their crane attached to a large truck (about the size of a power utility truck) to step masts onto boats that are tied up at the float. Their work is tide-dependent and they are at the harbor approximately four hours per day.

    “Roughly in 120 hours spring and fall, we are an integral part of making the boating season happen in Rockport and beyond,” they wrote.

    When they established their business at Marine Park in 2017, they were permitted space on the commercial side of the harbor for $250.

    But, space constraints and water depth were factors in their relocation across the channel to the bulkhead in a spot near the park flagpole.

    From 2018 through 2022, they paid $850 annually for the seasonal rental of Marine Park space.

    After they received the proposed 2023 contract, Laprade and Pickering outlined a counter offer of $2,500, a 200 percent increase.

    They cited three other entities leasing space from the town.

    “Mainely Lobster occupies roughly 3,987 square feet and pays $4,000 for multiple docks, ramps, bulkhead, building, and other infrastructure. $1.003/sq. foot,” they wrote in an April 21 email to the Town Manager Jon Duke.

    “Rockport Boat Club occupies 6,825.6 square feet and pays $7,500 for its buildings, yards, fencing, ramp and floats; $1.09/sq. foot,” they wrote. “SkyhookLLC, 1,160 sq. ft. Town proposal @$6,500 $5.60/sq foot. Our proposal @ $2,550 $2.19/sq.ft. for seasonal temporary use of the bulkhead.”

    The Heron, a commercial sailboat with a berth at the town wharf, pays $4,000 per year, it was also noted in an exchange of emails between the town office and Skyhook.

    Laprade and Pickering wrote to Duke April 21: “We understand that the town needs revenues to offset costs at the harbor, we are happy to pay our fair share. Considering any cost increase would have to be passed onto our customers, the rate we currently charge is comparable to other regional boatyards. There is only so much we can increase fees before we are priced out of the market.”

    They offered to limit their operating season to May1-July1 and then from September 1-November 1, “with a provision for special circumstances (storms/emergency/other) to be approved by the harbor master,” they wrote.

    They added: 

    “Payment of $1,275 due by June 1 and a second payment of $1,275 due by October 1 for a total of $2,550.
    ”We continue to carry (as we have been operating with) 1 million dollar coverage per incident, 2 million aggregate policy. 
    ”Each day at the conclusion of work we will park across the river at your proposed location.
    “We commit to remediating any damage we cause to the grass where we operate.”

    But Duke told them in a May 3 email that $2,500 would not be a fair recognition of the use of the public property.

    In a memo to the Select Board (see attached PDF) in advance of the May 8 meeting, Duke said: “Like all other leases managed around the harbor (Boat Club, Mainely Lobster, the Heron) it is my responsibility to manage those leases and approve their renewals. Over the last several years, one entity has operated in the Harbor on a regular basis and using Town property to provide service to boat owners who require their mast stepped and their boat rigged.

    “That entity, Skyhook LLC, has evolved into a firm which works nearly every day for 3-4 hours around high tide to meet that need by boat owners. Many of these owners who launch their boats in Rockport Harbor are Rockport residents, but many are not residents and are using this service because our harbor is particularly advantageous to launch in.

    “I have engaged with Skyhook’s owners Shane and Nate over the last several months. First, they had great concern regarding potential limitations relating to the Parks and Beautification Committees concerns in the aftermath of the sauna conversation and then again as we discussed a potential lease agreement.

    “The lease draft attached is my attempt to capture the cost of 3-4 hours of use of Marine Park for 4 months of our summer season. While the annual cost of $6,500 is more than the current ‘Commercial Service Fee’ of $850 charged for other commercial services operating at the harbor, the impact Skyhook has within the park is substantial.

    “Their boom truck parked on the edge of the bulkhead and moving masts around park users and the public has caused concern among residents. I’ve included within the draft lease a requirement for liability insurance coverage which adds the Town as an additional insured. Lastly, this proposed increase is substantial in relation to what this entity has been paying in the past, but I don’t believe its costs are outsized for the costs their customers are bearing. The average mast stepping costs between $250-$500 and Skyhook has stated they handle 100 masts in each half of their season, so a total of 200 service calls for the year. That works out to $33 per service call to cover Skyhook’s rent for the season, or roughly 10% of a customer’s cost.

    “I know we all want to welcome business and commerce in Rockport Harbor. We want to welcome business owners and ensure this is a hospitable environment for them to operate. The challenge is that we must ensure our parks and our harbor remains safe and accessible to all of our residents and the boating public. The pressures faced in our harbor from growth are considerable and future planning is a necessity to ensure we maintain balance in our harbor so that all the interests we have now remain strong.”

    The following is a January 11, 2023 letter from Shane Laprade and Nate Pickering to Members of the Rockport Harbor Committee, and John Duke. In it, they describe their business.

    Subject: Joint Meeting of Harbor Committee and Parks and Beautification Committee

    Hello, my name is Shane Laprade. I, with my business partner, Nate Pickering are co-owners of Skyhook Crane and Rigging llc. We have had the privilege of being permitted to operate in the marine park for the past 5 years. Our business primarily exists to service Rockport Harbor users, the 5 local inland boatyards, and the regional boating public that utilize the Harbor Park’s boat ramp.

    The service we provide is to step and unstep boat masts and rigging as well as to transport spars for residents and boatyards not on the harbor. Generally speaking, this has been 75-100 boats each cycle. We operate for 6- 8 weeks in the spring (roughly Memorial Day to the Fourth of July) and 6-8 weeks in the fall (Labor Day to November first). As the Rockport harbor bulkheads and boat ramp are tide dependent we only operate from mid to high tide, roughly 4 hours each day Monday through Friday. Roughly in 120 hours spring and fall, we are an integral part of making the boating season happen in Rockport and beyond.

    For our first operating season, the Town indicated the wish was for us to utilize the bulkhead on the east side of the river, which has been and is labeled “Commercial Fisherman Parking Only”. It became quickly apparent that due to constant parking challenges, lack of depth of water for safe access, lack of appropriate infrastructure to safely secure a float or vessel, as well as significant concerns for traffic restraints using the narrow roadway leading to that area that we should not operate there. The following spring, in a joint meeting with the Harbor Committee and other concerned commercial users, it was unanimously decided that the best location for us to operate is the corner bulkhead location near the flag-pole. Being out of the traffic pattern, both on land and water, allows us to operate without impacting vehicle, boat, pedestrian or commercial traffic for the seasonal periods in which we operate.

    We have worked with the Harbor Master and Harbor committee since the inception of our business. We strive to have consistent and open dialogue with Town representatives and Park users. We are proud to have had no complaints or negative experiences since we started operating from the corner bulkhead. Our combined experience of more than 35 years in the marine industry has made for a predictable, safe and smooth operating business for the past five years. The result of this effort is a repeat customer base of both residents and local businesses that rely on our service to be able to enjoy their boats and access the water. We enjoy being part of, as your Town Charter says, “the Harbor that defines us as a community”. It is an honor and a privilege to, as your Comprehensive Plans reads, “celebrate Rockport Harbor’s history as a working waterfront and social center... encouraging a mix of commercial and recreational activities”.

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at; 207-706-7757