(WSVN) - South Florida is a great spot to hit the water year-round, but some businesses that rely on the water are being left high and dry. 7’s Kevin Ozebek investigates.

Fort Lauderdale business owners Bill Schneider and Petrina Wellington say they’re struggling to stay afloat.

Bill Schneider: “I will go out of business.”

Bill owns Hot Scooter and Jet Ski Rental. Since 2014, customers have rented watercraft at his office.

They then head over to the boat ramps at George English Park.

Bill Schneider: “When their tour is over, we go, we pick them up, shuttle them here, back to their car.”

Petrina owns Lustre Watersports. Her customers would reserve online, then meet a staff member at the public park.

She says business was great, until July Fourth weekend.

Petrina Wellington: “To be honest, I was just devastated.”

Petrina and Bill were both looking forward to a busy holiday weekend, but Bill says, shortly after his employee hauling watercraft showed up at George English Park, so did Marine Patrol.

Bill Schneider: “He proceeded to tell my employee, ‘You’re no longer allowed to do that,’ that he is going to get a trespassing ticket if he doesn’t leave.”

Petrina’s business was also given a trespassing warning.

Petrina Wellington: “He said, ‘Well, I’m going to write you this trespassing [warning] that you cannot operate your JetSki in this boat ramp after today.'”

The business owners called 7News for help, so we reached out to the City of Fort Lauderdale.

City Manager Greg Chavarria told us: “…due to an influx and substantial increase of commercial activity, as well as resulting safety concerns … the City has stepped up its enforcement and, with regards to JetSki rentals, has opened up a bidding process and awarded a contract to an authorized vendor.”

Bill Schneider: “I didn’t hear anything whatsoever.”

Neither Bill nor Petrina say they were aware of the bidding process, which occurred in October of 2021. The company that won the bid has exclusive rights to operate “motorized and non-motorized” watersports rentals at George English Park.

Petrina Wellington: “It’s not fair.”

Bill Schneider: “Normally, we’d be using this ramp right here to the left.”

Bill and Petrina say they told city staff they would use the boat ramps when they applied for business licenses.

Bill Schneider: “They make it very clear that you are only allowed to drop your Skis in the water and park your trailers here and pay for the parking, and that’s it.”

The city tells 7News the three other public boat ramps in Fort Lauderdale are also off limits. It says park rules apply, and “parks shall not be used for business or social service purposes unless authorized pursuant to a written agreement with city.”

Bill and Petrina argue they did have permission.

Petrina is launching her watercraft in Pompano Beach for now, but it’s expensive.

Bill’s watercraft haven’t left their trailers for weeks, and he says it’s costing him big time.

Bill Schneider: “Oh, man, thousands upon thousands, employees, about three out of four employees.”

They plan to make an appeal to the city in hopes of keeping their companies from going underwater.

Kevin Ozebek, 7News.

CONTACT 7INVESTIGATES:
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7Investigates@wsvn.com

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