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Coan Marina to cease operations

Posted on Wednesday, August 6, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Gary Giberson and his daughter at the controls of a 727 Boeing.

Gary Giberson and his daughter at the controls of a 727 Boeing.

When American Airline Flight # 77 slammed into the Pentagon on September 11 2001,  Coan Marina owner Gary Giberson was fishing.

As an American Airlines Boeing 767 pilot, Gary traded off flights that day so he could go off-shore and have some fun.

The flight he traded off was Flight #77 and Gary’s crew, along with pilot Charles “Chic” Burlingame, perished on that historic day.

Gary did not inform family and friends he and Captain Burlingame had made the switch, and those close to Gary assumed that he was on board flight 77; chaos ensued.

Gary has had more than one scrape with heart-stopping events — he recalled a non-stop flight from L.A. to Dulles Airport, where the aircraft had one of its two engines disintegrate in mid-air, causing a series of fast actions for an emergency landing.

This was three days after the events of 9/11, and during a bomb scare to boot.

What really did cause Gary a true heart related medical issue was not the responsibility of piloting a 160-200 million dollar aircraft with 181-409 people on board cruising at 529 miles per hour, it was losing his and his fiancé’ Mary Lewis’ dream of owning the one-time flourishing Coan Marina and enjoying a rural lifestyle.

Gary has since endured two recent episodes of atrial fibrillation which is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke, blood clots and heart failure.

Gary attributes his health issues to the stress he is currently enduring regarding the marina’s decline in business and the inability to meet the $6,400 monthly note payment which has forced the bank to foreclose the marina on August 15th.

Having purchased Coan Marina in September 14, 2005, Gary met Mary, and they set about planning to build up the marina by constructing 12 duplex homes (a total of 24 units).

They had obtained the necessary permits from various county oversight boards and committees.

However, in 2006, the aftereffects of Hurricane Ernesto caused substantial damage to Coan Marina, and Gary was forced to borrow $200,000 from an area bank.

But more bad news was on the way: rising fuel prices, along with long-reaching but seemingly short-sighted local government obstacles, impeded the marina’s economics.

Gary asserts the impedance stemmed from the lack of “bringing in people and new business,” as the marina saw sales at the gasoline pumps alone dwindle from 12,000 gallons in the 2010 season to 500 gallons last season.

Many folks with large boats gave them up by walking away from their boat, and the burden of the boat ownership tax.

Gary and Mary claimed they moved to a rural area to “escape ‘yuppie’ style community covenants” and picky rules, but retiring city types bring “petty” regulating strategies along with them to rural settings.

This comment was based on an attempt to block business, as Gary’s late father left him a home on the shore, and Gary had it rented out for $2,400 weekly with eight offers on the table.

According to Gary, the Northumberland Board of Supervisors declined permission to rent as “people lined up to speak and outright lied” about concerns of young people throwing wild parties and other suspicions.

Gary pointed out that “young people cannot afford the rent and would not come this far up the Northern Neck to party. They would take their money to an area that supports youthful activities” and presupposing poor youthful behavior is unacceptable.

Gary and Mary, along with Dan and Jeanne Hickey, owners of Smith Point Marina, share the opinion that not lowering the boat tax as Lancaster, Hampton Roads and other counties are has discouraged business.

“Lower it to zero,” Dan suggests.

Current boat taxes and high fuel cost are affecting those with boats with a length of 30 feet and longer to the point that the cost of a day’s run in the sun can reach $500.00 and more.

Dan and Jeanne, along with Steve Ryan of Kinsale Marina, feel folks are opposed to change regardless of what benefit there is attached to it and  their collective feeling is local Chambers of Commerce do little to encourage new business.

In fact, their fear is those who can affect economic stimulation sit idly by as the tax base shrinks and capitulate to long- time resident’s fear of controlled economic growth or change in the status quo as the NIMBY (not in my back yard) mantra reigns supreme.

Dan said “their fears are without foundation” with Ryan echoing similar thoughts.  Dan proffered “to get more business, we need more customers.”

The owners of all three marinas are quick to point out their anger, frustration and lack of community and local government co-operation that interferes with their investment and feel it’s “my property and I should be able to do what I want with it” in terms of making decisions that support and grow the business.

As for Gary and Mary, they have seen the globe from thousands of feet in the air, but now it’s time to travel the ground via RV.

As Gary’s late father Camber Lincoln Giberson put it: “The whole darn world is a candy jar.”