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Whether North Tonawanda's new fee for boaters is a launching fee or a trailer parking fee could be crucial to the legality of the city's charge required of boaters using any of three boat-launching sites on the Erie Canal.

Critics, including Wheatfield Supervisor Terry W. Kuehn, question the legality of North Tonawanda imposing a boat-launching fee on a state and federally supported waterway.

Kuehn has asked his town attorney to research the question.

The North Tonawanda Common Council voted to charge non-residents $50 for a season permit to use the city ramps.

The new ordinance allows city residents to obtain a permit by showing a city recreation pass that costs $15 for two years and is good for a number of recreational activities.

Although the city has publicized it as a boat-launch permit, Mayor James A. McGinnis argues that it is actually a boat-trailer parking fee.

He defends its legality by noting that the city pays for maintaining and repairing the three ramp sites that many non-residents as well as city residents have used without fee until now.

The permit sticker must be displayed on the back of a boat-hauling vehicle's rear view mirror. The license plate number is printed on the permit.

"The operator or driver of a motor vehicle launching and/or parking at a North Tonawanda boat launching site without displaying a valid boat launching permit will be guilty of a violation and subject to a fine of not more than $250 or imprisonment for a period not to exceed 15 days" or both, according to an announcement from the city Department of Youth, Recreation and Parks, which issues the permits.

The permits are required between April 15 and Oct. 15. The North Tonawanda Police Department is responsible for enforcing the new ordinance.

The launch sites are at Gratwick-Riverside Park, at Sweeney Street and Service Drive and at the city Botanical Gardens.

Permits are available at the Recreation Department office in the Col. Payne Community Center, 460 Wheatfield St., North Tonawanda, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and until 6:45 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month.

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