Boat Tree Marina residents get respite after dock deemed unsafe: 'I have not been sleeping'

The Boat Tree Marina and Seminole County Building Officials have reached an agreement that should put the marina’s 40 residents at ease.

On Monday, the people living there thought they had to find a new place to dock their houseboats by the end of the day or leave the boat behind. 

Kirk Eppenstein is one of those residents. He has lived in the marina for about five years. He walked FOX 35 News around the dock, explaining the incredibly stressful weekend he and his neighbors had just gone through. 

"I have not been sleeping," Eppenstein told FOX 35. 

He left work late on Friday and came home with a note saying he would likely have to evacuate by Monday.

"It’s not like we can just get up and, you know, willy-nilly move to another location or another house or something," explained Eppenstein. "It's like moving your entire life."

He says some people’s boats don’t run, so they couldn’t relocate them even if they wanted to. Other people at the marina are disabled and can’t easily get around. Some can’t afford a higher payment at another marina. Availability at other nearby marinas is also incredibly slim.

Eppenstein says he’s one of the lucky ones – he got a slip at a marina in DeLand, so he would still have access to his home. He says he checked out some closer ones to no avail.

"You could be on a waiting list for multiple years for that marina. And then there’s one on the other side of the lake that’s absolutely full as well."


Even this marina, close in comparison to others he called, would add 45 minutes to his commute and $300 to his monthly bills.

"We're just trying to go day by day at this point," said Eppenstein. "We don't know what's happening, where we're supposed to go, if we're going to have a place to live. Do I need to move? You know, it's everything is very up in the air."

On Monday afternoon, FOX 35 was able to spread the word that they could stay, at least for now.

What’s happening now links back to issues from August last year. When a boat caught fire, an investigator came out and realized the residential boats didn’t have smoke alarms. The Fire Department held an event to fix that problem, but inspections revealed other issues.

Jessica Davis, the Chief Operating Officer at Boat Tree Marina, says the business is recovering from damage caused by hurricanes in the past couple of years.

"Especially when we've had storms where the water has risen and gone back down," explained Davis. "We've also had increased occupancy. There's been a lot of twisting on the docks."

Inspectors showed back up again every month since November. That damage finally led to a notice from the Seminole County Fire Marshal and Building Official, saying the docks were dangerous and people couldn’t stay there.

"I know we — they — need to work on the docks. I don't think that. I don't find them unsafe," said Eppenstein.

Boat Tree Marina says they were constantly doing repairs but has realized it had priorities different from what the county would prefer.

"It's a balancing act with what we can afford at the time if there are quick solutions that we can afford at the time while we wait for permanent replacement," said Davis.

FOX 35 told Eppenstein the news: Boat Tree worked out a last-minute deal with the county so its residents could stay on the property.

Disabled residents who need finger piers will be moved to access ones in good condition, and other boats will move to the structurally sound docks. The marina must also secure its electric pedestals and transformers so they don’t sway around. The plan is to rearrange where the boats are parked while repairs are being made.

However, Eppenstein says it’s hard to feel relieved. 

"My worry is that, like, everything has changed so many times that, even if they have come to this agreement that a week from now or a month from now, they're going to say, sorry, we were just kidding. You guys have to get out."

The county says it’ll expedite permits so the marina can rebuild quickly.

However, they will send out inspectors in the future to make sure the marina meets safety requirements.