On Monday (March 16), the Flagler County Commission will consider and likely vote on a proposed land use amendment south of the Brunswick Corp. Sea Ray manufacturing plant between Roberts Road and Lambert Avenue. This is the second of two articles presenting the principal views on the matter. A piece published earlier today presents the concerns of some residents in Flagler Beach. The piece below, by Sea Ray Operations Manager Craig Wall, presents the company’s perspective, stressing the limited purpose of the land use application and dispensing with a variety of fears, assumptions and what Wall in an email called “the media hype.” The county’s background material on the matter can be accessed here. The Observer’s Jonathan Simmons reported on the proposal at length in mid-February, in a report available here. Wall will be Gretchen Smith’s guest on Chamber Chat on WNZF at 11 a.m. Saturday (March 14) on WNZF.
By Craig Wall
First, thank you for the opportunity to share with you and your readers some thoughts on the current situation in Flagler County, where our Palm Coast facility is seeking to have a parcel of land adjacent to it rezoned to use as a new parking lot.
We have been up-front and forthcoming throughout this process as to why we seek this change at the Palm Coast plant: so we can have safe, convenient parking for our growing number of employees. It would also offer us some flexibility to better configure and improve our current operations. It’s about better utilizing what we have, not adding space to expand production. Here are some key points, as I see them.
This is not about expanding production at the Palm Coast facility: It is about a parking lot that will allow us to provide a safer environment for our employees and to better configure our operations to more effectively and efficiently produce our current workload, not to expand production or operations.
In fact, in terms of total number of units, Palm Coast is producing less – not more — boats than it has in the past. In 2014, the Palm Coast plant produced nearly a third fewer boats than it did during its most recent peak production year, which was 2005.
We are, however, making additional models which require additional and different tooling: In 2005, the plant produced seven different models. Today it manufactures 17 distinct models, 10 of which are either new to the product portfolio or used to be made at other Sea Ray plants, which have since been closed.
Several of those models new to Palm Coast are large and complex, requiring additional skilled employees as well as additional boat molds, tooling and other materials. In short, we have more employees and necessary supplies to accommodate on the property.
As a result, we have more employees to accommodate. We now have about 675 employees at the Palm Coast plant. That is an increase of approximately 275 employees, or nearly 70 percent since 2012, when the plant began to accommodate the manufacture of additional boat models as Sea Ray was closing other plants and moving those models to Palm Coast. Indeed, until the Sykes Creek plant in nearby Merritt Island is reactivated and begins production later this year, virtually all Sea Ray boats are now made either at a plant in Vonore, Tenn., or at Palm Coast.
This is not about new smokestacks or expanding the operation. The main reasons behind our request for a parking lot are to provide safe parking for our team members, and provide much needed staging areas for our tooling and jigs required to produce the various models of boats we now make at Palm Coast.
This is not about increasing emissions. There has been much speculation about Sea Ray’s “new Department of Environmental Protection permit,” which is, in fact, a temporary permit and is not new having been issued in 2013. Indeed, this temporary permit, which expires in 2018, would only be relevant to this conversation if we intended to increase productions levels, which we do not. Again, this request before Flagler County is not about expanding production at Palm Coast. Currently, we have two shifts running at capacity, and as stated, current production would be maintained going forward.
We are good environmental stewards: We have had no environmental violations over the past several years, despite being subject to frequent inspections – all of which we have passed. These outside inspections are in addition to our own monitoring efforts, at which we believe we are diligent.
Further, we continue to invest in technology to address emissions. For example, we are in the middle of implementing vacuum infusion in our lamination process. The process, which is not mandated, encapsulates parts and molds in plastic coverings and reduces emissions from this process. In 2014, we invested over $250,000 in equipment, not including testing, to infuse our small parts. We are planning to infuse our first hull soon, and if successful we may employ the process further throughout our product line. This process does increase our production costs, but we consider this a “win-win” as we benefit from improved consistency, and we reduce emissions in the community.
Plant acreage has not grown in over three decades. The total area of the plant – slightly more than 39 acres – has not changed since we began the Palm Coast operations more than 30 years ago. This new parking lot would provide our workforce more convenience, improved safety over current conditions, and also offer us a more efficient configuration within the existing property and physical plant, perhaps for boat mold storage and other needs to maintain current production. This would make the operation more efficient, but not increase overall production levels. The request, which includes the parking lot and possibly some office space, we believe, is our best option.
Audio: A Panel Discussion on the Proposal on WNZF’s Free For All Friday (March 13)[media id=398 width=250 height=200]
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Some fear we have other plans for the parcel than a parking lot. But only about 16 of the 24 acres of the parcel can be utilized, as the rest is protected wetlands. The vast majority of those 16 acres will be required for the parking lot.
As stated previously, we also plan to shift where we stage our finished boats for transfer from its current location, just off Roberts Road to another location on the parcel. Trucks that transport these boats do not have “loud back-up alarms,” as one person claimed, and the activity level will not be increased at the new location, which would be farther from the beach. Indeed, we believe shifting the boat staging area to the new parcel, which will offer more room to maneuver, will improve traffic flow and congestion.
We are also requesting to possibly add a small office building, if the need should arise. There are no current plans for such a structure, but that sums up our three purposes for the parcel: parking lot, staging area and possible office space. Nowhere are we planning to use the parcel for any additional manufacturing.
The parcel we seek, we believe, is our best option. Some have suggested that we look at another tract to the west of the plant for the parking lot. But that parcel is already under contract to a local developer. Given the situation, we believe the tract we seek offers the best option. The process before us is to allow rezoning for a parking lot. That is our intent, and we are working with county officials to secure that parking lot. Again, we have always been upfront with that desire.
Sea Ray has a long history in Flagler County. Sea Ray has been at the Palm Coast site since 1984, when there was one residential home in the immediate area. We have always tried to be respectful in balancing our business’s needs with those of our neighbors and the community. We hope that such considerations will be reciprocal as we continue to seek the resources we need to run Palm Coast safely, effectively and efficiently.
Some things to consider about Sea Ray’s plans for the parcel:
- We plan to maintain current wetlands as they exist on the current property.
- We plan to surround property with a natural raised berm.
- Operational logistics don’t lend themselves to utilize this property for manufacturing, particularly in light of its distance away from central current operations.
- Traffic flow does not change from the current state, with vehicles still entering / exiting from current Sea Ray Drive as today.
- Main drivers for this request, again, are to provide safe parking for our team members and provide much needed staging areas for our tooling and jigs required to provide flexibility.
- About 70 percent of our team members live in Flagler County. They and their neighbors will benefit from this rezoning.
- This is the best utilization of this property for the community, too. It would provide a buffer vs. manufacturing expansion to the south.
Craig Wall is the Operations Manager at Sea Ray in Palm Coast.