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Niagara County boaters will be allowed to appeal Canadian fines

LOCKPORT - Two Niagara County boaters who had to pay $3,000 in fines Aug. 4 to prevent Canadian border officials from seizing their boats at Port Dalhousie, Ont., will be allowed to appeal the case, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said.

Randy S. Hook, 52, of the Town of Lockport, and Gerald S. Daniel, 57, of Burt, were charged with failing to properly report their presence to the Canada Border Service Agency.

Hook said Canadian officials also confiscated the families' NEXUS cards, which allow free border passage over the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge at Niagara Falls. NEXUS holders can obtain a boat registration number, which is supposed to speed up reporting at Canadian ports, Hook said.

He and Daniel sailed from Olcott to Port Dalhousie, as they had done many times before over the last 10 years, anchored about 70 feet offshore, and tried to report by cellphone. Hook said he reached the Canada Border Service Agency at Port Dalhousie, but whoever answered hung up on him.

After calling back, Hook and Daniel were told they could not be issued an arrival number, but a boat would be coming out to meet them. After waiting for a few minutes, they went ashore and were ordered to return to their boats.

An ensuing confrontation resulted in the announcement that Hook's boat, Daniel's boat and the personal watercraft ridden by Hook's daughter were being seized - unless they paid $1,000 in fines for each craft.

"I had no choice. Either that or swim home," Hook said. "In my mind, I did everything right."

Upon returning home, Hook and Daniel called State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane.

"He said he would love to help us, but this is now at the federal level. We called Sen. Schumer. He's been great," Hook said. NEXUS cards have been returned to Hook's son and wife and to Daniel's wife.

"That was the only reason we got them back, because wrote a letter," Hook said.

In a statement last week, Schumer said Canada "must more clearly communicate the duties and expectations of Americans boating near the border and provide clear warnings in incidents with first-time offenders in those situations."

Jean D'Amelio Swyer, spokeswoman for the Canada Border Service Agency, said the rules for reporting were changed last year. American boaters now may use cellphones if they are not planning to come ashore. Those who want to land must use an official landline phone at designated marinas.

Swyer said NEXUS members must report their arrival between 30 minutes and four hours in advance and may proceed to their destination if no border official meets them. She said there have been eight penalties assessed this year against American boaters in Ontario waters.