ROCKPORT — Skyway Communities pays a $50,000 finders fee to anyone who brings the “aggressively” searching campground firm a new one to buy — but the North Carolina company is balking at paying $27,000 to connect to Rockport’s sewer system.

Skyway recently bought the Megunticook Campground on Route 1 in Rockport, which hosts RVs and tent campers five months a year, along with its sister site, the Sea Swell Campgrounds on Route 90.

The Route 1 site has a private sewer system to service dozens of camping and RV sites. Its new owners want to connect to the Rockport municipal system but are not happy with the assessment fee of $27,000. Once connected, all users pay monthly utility fees.

Skyway Communities’ principal Christopher Mathews declined to discuss specifics of the sewer situation when contacted Jan. 11. He cited the delicacy of the matter before the town, his firm’s need to seek advice from officials and Rockport’s need to do its due diligence in deciding how to proceed.

 

Megunticook and Sea Swell campgrounds have been purchased by Skyway Communities and improvements are underway for next season’s opening in May. Photo by Jack M. Foley

However, he emphasized his firm is committed to continue making improvements begun by the former owners who’d faced a very “problematic” site when they bought it.

“We are doing everything we can to continue what those owners put together, we’re very involved in doing things the right way,” Mathews said, adding, “We are here to invest in the park and the community and doing things the right way.”

The request to hook up to town sewer at a reduced fee under the circumstances, however, was characterized by Town Manager Jon Duke as a “unique” situation, one not seen before and probably not anticipated when the sewer ordinance was written.

In the end, the select board, sitting as the wastewater commission, tabled the matter and directed staff to continue exploring options. Several members cited the need to be business friendly, while at the same time taking care not to send a wrong message to others who might seek reduced sewer fees and the need to be fair to who have already paid assessments to hook up.

But details of the issue were clear from comments at the Jan. 9 meeting and in written communications between the town and Skyway.

Asked to report on the matter at the meeting, Orion Thomas, Rockport Planning and Development Director, said $27,000 was “a fee determined by the Fee Schedule in the Sewer Regulations document.”

In his written comments to the select board/wastewater commission, Thomas described the process used to calculate hookup fees on the new section of the Route 1 sewer line, noting it is based on a calculation of the number of equivalent users on a hookup and gallons per day.

For the campground, the latter is 75 gallons per day per camping site, according to Thomas. Noting the camping area has 87 camp sites, 10 cabins and one office, he tallied 98 sites that would contribute to the sewer system and 75 gpd each.

 

The Route 1 campground has RV and tent sites, cabins and a pool and is open from mid-May into October. Photo by Jack M. Foley

Thomas later explained that the town uses standard state charts and tables — including numbers specified for campgrounds — to calculate figures such as equivalent users. And while it makes a distinction between residential and commercial users, Skyway was treated just as any other commercial applicant would be treated to arrive at its hookup assessment fee, according to Thomas.

Multiplying 98 sites by 75 gpd adds up to a 7,350 gpd total. Citing the state tables, Thomas wrote, “Per the Sewer Equivalent Users Calculation Table, one Equivalent User is 270 gpd. Therefore, the total gpd of 7,350 was divided by 270 to result in the final total of 27 Equivalent User for this site.”

Sewer connections under the town’s sewer ordinance are $1,000 per equivalent user, Thomas reported, adding, “Therefore the total due for Sea Swell Campgrounds…to tie into sewer at this location would be a total of $27,000.”

Sea Swell Campgrounds Operations Manager Drew McMullan, a former Rockport Deputy Harbor Master, appeared at the Jan. 9 meeting. In a letter to commissioners and in person. He outlined Skyway’s view that the $27,000 fee is “prohibitive” and based on “residential situations” as opposed to the unique aspects of the camping industry.

“We have a large private sewer system consisting of lift pumps, septic tanks and leach fields that services the majority of our RV site,” he wrote. But Skyway, the new owner, “has decided to invest in the infrastructure making it more accessible and therefore more desirable to our customers. Included in this plan is putting sewer hookups at every site, strengthening/replacing the existing pumps and underground pipes, and tying into the town sewer.” He called connecting to town sewer, “the final tie-in piece.”

In what officials called an allowable appeal of the assessment decision, McMullan defended the requested reduced but unspecified fee by saying the proposed assessment ignores “unique” aspects of RV vehicles compared to residential use. Among them: many are self-contained and do not add waste to the system; some use composting toilets; and much of the water coming through their system does not go out through the sewer. In addition, “our sewer is shut down and winterized” seven months of the year, he said.

Upgrading the campground that brings more than 5,000 people to the area from May 15 to Oct. 15 each year is a priority for the company, according to McMullan. Doing so, he wrote, “not only helps our business, but all of the surrounding area as our customers patronize many local establishments.”

For his part, Mathews said his firm “loves” the area. He confirmed purchase of the local camping grounds last September. He attended a wedding in the area last year, fell in love with the Midcoast and he and his investors saw an opportunity, he said, for their relatively new venture. Additional expansion is anticipated in the Northeast, Maine in particular, he said. The firm owns another campground in the Catskill Mountains in New York. Mathews described Skyway, which he owns with partners, as a “small boutique” campground company looking to expand.

“We are looking to add more [campgrounds], but these were definitely really high-quality assets, so that is what attracted them to us,” Mathews said.

He also confirmed, as the company website proclaims, that Skyway will pay a finder’s fee of $50,000 to anyone who leads them to an acquisition that meets their specifications.

However, he said drawing a comparison between the $50,000 and the $27,000 sewer hookup fee is like comparing apples and oranges and the two are unrelated.

The finder’s fee applies only to deals that do not involve a real estate agent. So, the fee is akin to a realtor’s commission that can be as high as three percent — a substantial dollar amount when dealing with multi-million-dollar properties and so would be paid anyway, he said.

The company website, skywaycommunities.com, puts it this way: “Skyway Communities, LLC is aggressively looking to expand across the United States and will pay fees at closing to individuals or companies who bring us opportunities. Send us an RV resort that fits our criteria, and we will pay you $50,000!”

Skyway’s sewer hookup fee reduction request is expected to be discussed again at the select board’s Feb. 13 meeting, Duke said.