Monday, June 04, 2001

Lake Erie islands see tourism as boon, bane

The Associated Press

        MARBLEHEAD, Ohio — June is here and the quiet is over for this Lake Erie community and the islands for which it's a stepping-off point.

        Thousands of tourists will be coming daily to the area, which has just a few hundred off-season residents. They traditionally leave lots of money, but also bring noise, litter and drunken, unruly behavior.

        Cities, villages and townships struggle to handle the demands the visitors make on roads, utilities and emergency services.

        Marblehead enacted a ferry fee last year to pay for tourist-related costs, but voters overturned it in a referendum.

        The village passed a 1 percent income tax in December and is collecting it while awaiting the outcome of a ballot initiative this fall. The village already collects a 3 percent bed tax and charges people $15 to dock their boats in town.

        The two levies raised about $46,000 last year, and Marblehead has collected about $8,000 in income tax receipts this year.

        Mayor Steve Plottner promotes tourism, but says it taxes the infrastructure of the community, which has 762 year-round residents.

        “Did tourists create expenditures here? Despite what people might think, the answer here is yes,” he said.

        Feelings about tourists are mixed on South Bass Island in the village of Put-In-Bay. The village has 128 permanent residents, all of whom could easily fit into any of the island's several large bars that draw throngs of tourists.

        “There's a split on the island, and I would think the businesspeople certainly would like to see more people come over here,” said Kelly Faris, clerk-treasurer for the village.

        “And then there's the retirees, the people who own property and live here, the residents, who do not like to see the changes and the increased commercialization. I don't know if you can make both groups happy.”

        Don Fenton, vice president of the Put-in-Bay Property Owners Association, said many of the group's 200 members are tired of loud music, careless golf cart drivers and public drunkenness.

        “The island's getting a bad reputation, and we're kind of proud of this island. ... Weekends are getting kind of rowdy and there's a lot of noise,” Mr. Fenton said.

        Police Chief Jim Lang acknowledged trouble with visitors who drink too much.

        “I think the problem has been here for years,” he said.

        “I think it's the attitude of people. I think we see a younger crowd coming, and I just think they don't act as well as the little-bit-older crowd.”

        He said that in a typical summer, the department arrests about 1,000 people out of about 1.2 million visitors, mostly for open container violations, disorderly conduct and assaults.

        To handle the crush of visitors, the village expands its police department in the summer, adding more than 50 temporary officers and dispatchers.

        In the off-season, three full-time officers patrol the island.


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