Saturday, February 4, 2023

Wrightsville Beach’s face-off with jet ski company ramps up

One of Chris Mangum’s WaveRunners sits moored in shallow water amid the afternoon boat traffic on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — On most summer days, Chris Mangum can be found beneath the Heide Trask Bridge, sitting on the sand in a foldable beach chair as cars pass overhead.

It’s the de facto office of his company, Wrightsville Beach Jet Ski Rentals Inc. 

Mangum has owned as many as eight personal water craft, which he rents out to customers by the hour from his station near the public boat ramp. The crafts float in the Intracoastal Waterway, near the Wrightsville Beach shore, while he fields constant calls from interested tourists and locals. 

This enterprise has inflamed the Town of Wrightsville Beach. While the town does not own the land — which belongs to the State of North Carolina — it does have extra-territorial jurisdiction over the area, meaning town zoning codes can be applied. An N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission official previously told Port City Daily they have no issue with jet ski companies making use of their territory, specifically the public ramp which Mangum uses to deploy the crafts, so long as regulations are followed. 

Mangum bore 29 zoning citations from the town between 2015 and 2017 as Wrightsville Beach sought to stamp out such rental companies. He accuses the town of singling him out by throwing their full legal weight behind the case against him while other rentors of watercraft went unscathed. 

READ MORE: After years without issues, what made Wrightsville Beach go after a jet-ski rental company?

After a lawsuit flurry in recent years, Mangum signed his name to an April 2018 consent judgement that dropped the citation fees and demanded that he cease the rentals. Yet he continued to assume his post under the bridge, with jet skis still in tow, standing firm in a belief that the order existed on shaky footing.

“Why am I going to pay them contempt money on property they don’t even own?” Mangum said. The North Carolina Department of Transportation “says I do nothing wrong, as long as I don’t accept money on their property and keep the jet skis outside the drip line of the bridge.” 

Mangum continued to rent jet skis under the bridge, and the town continued offensive moves against him. The Superior Court decreed a contempt order against Mangum in September 2018 for his failure to comply with the terms of the judgement. 

“The state weighed in on this issue and the town has zero jurisdiction on this property, meaning the consent judgement should have been thrown out, if the law had been applied appropriately,” Mangum argues.  

The status quo still did not change; Mangum continues to launch crafts underneath the draw bridge to this day. Town attorney Brian Edes, in a letter to Mangum dated June 29, 2021, directed the jet ski businessman to “immediately cease and desist from engaging in any activity that violates the terms of the Consent Judgement.” 

“If you do not immediately cease and desist from engaging in such activity,” Edes wrote to Mangum, “the Town will have no choice but to bring this matter back before the Court to secure your compliance with the Consent Judgement.” 

This latest development in the ongoing confrontation, first reported by WECT, came three weeks after WECT named Mangum as a source for a separate article about the town’s efforts to monetize parking spaces under the drawbridge. 

After a board of aldermen meeting at town hall, Edes told Port City Daily the letter was sent to Mangum once the jet ski company’s opportunity for appeals had been exhausted: “You have not timely petitioned the United States Supreme Court to review your case,” Edes wrote in the letter.

“It’s clear we were willing to work with him,” Edes said after the meeting. “He appears not to be willing to work with the town.” 

Mangum, however, accuses the town of sending him the letter as retaliation for his quotes to WECT. 

His appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit was dismissed Feb 22, 2021. Mangum had 90 days from that date to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, meaning his appeal eligibility was exhausted in late May. 

READ MORE: Wrightsville’s new police chief meets man behind jet-ski lawsuit, appeal filed same day

Edes’ letter demands that Mangum comply with the existing contempt order — in which Mangum was ordered to pay $3,508 to the town for violating the consent judgment and for attorney’s fees — before July 12 at 4:30 p.m. 

“In the event you fail to comply,” Edes wrote, “the Town will have no choice but bring this matter back before the Court.” 

Mangum said he has no plans to stop renting jet skis.

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