Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Beach towns seek state-granted authority to better control derelict boats, polluters

The mooring field in Carolina Beach currently charges boaters $20 a night, the town only gets $5 of the fee (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
The mooring field in Carolina Beach. (Port City Daily/File)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Four Cape Fear beach towns are looking for the state legislature to grant them more authority over waters in their corporate limits. 

Through House Bill 449, Pender County’s Surf City, Topsail Beach and North Topsail Beach are hoping to gain the right to remove abandoned vessels from its navigable waters. The Town of Carolina Beach’s legislation, House Bill 79, offers that authority to the New Hanover beach town, too, but is more broad, allowing the town to make any rules for its waters that do not conflict with superseding agencies. 

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Ed Parvin, Carolina Beach’s assistant town manager, told Port City Daily abandoned vessels are a “huge issue” from Maine to Florida and H.B. 79l would give the town “more teeth” to address it. 

“Our biggest issue is some people that were basically abandoning boats, they were just anchoring and leaving,” Parvin said. 

Right now, the authority to address those derelict boats, and other rules within the Carolina Beach harbor, resides with various state and federal agencies — North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the U.S.  Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

H.B. 79, sponsored by New Hanover County Rep. Charles Miller, would remove the red-tape, allowing Carolina Beach to extract the boat much quicker before it becomes a larger safety hazard.  

“If we can get those things towed out before they sink or find a way to start having some accountability for the folks, that’s gonna help us,” Parvin said. 

According to Carolina Beach harbor reports, the town has been working with the Coast Guard since last year to excavate a sunken sailboat in the harbor. It has been there at least since October 2022.

He added sometimes boats are left due to financial hardships or inability to meet upkeep. Being able to hold boat owners more accountable for keeping up with their property, perhaps with fines, will help offset the costs to the town.

Steve Smith, chairman of the Topsail Island Shoreline Protection Commission, said the three Topsail Island beaches are also facing similar issues. 

He said the town has seen one or two abandoned boats over the last year, but the issue arises more after a big storm or hurricane. 

“By allowing all three towns the ability to enforce abandoned vessels will provide another tool to address the issue and perhaps deter future abandonment,” Smith said.

H.B. 449, sponsored by Pender County’s Rep. Carson Smith, would allow the three towns to address boats left more than 30 consecutive days or at risk of sinking in the same manner as abandoned vehicles. 

Carolina Beach wants to go further. 

“I don’t know if other communities have as much of a problem with this, but there’s vessels where people are actually living on the boats and [we’re] trying to establish some regulations for those boats,” Parvin said. 

The main problem with houseboats comes with waste pumping. While mooring fields have places to empty boat tanks, and more oversight, the town has no ability to supervise boats anchored outside its docks. And while the Coast Guard and other agencies have the authority to address violations, enforcement is scarce. 

“One of my interests was, you know, somebody says, ‘Hey, we want to anchor in Carolina Beach.’ We would put dye tablets in their tanks, so if they pumped, you would know, you’d have that fluorescent color around there,” Parvin said. 

He added he’s talked to divers that have gone down into the harbor. They describe almost 20 feet of water that looks like silt or mayonnaise due to the human waste and other pollutants being dumped in the water. 

Another issue with visiting boaters happens when they break anchor; Parvin said they’ve had people hit piers and private property. The town also considered having boaters register with the town before anchoring, so they can be properly guided and held accountable when things go awry. 

“We really want to start to kind of manage what you’re doing out there,” Parvin said. “So you’re being respectful to the adjacent property owners, you know, people on the shoreline, and the environment.” 

Not included in the bill, but on the Carolina Beach’s list of goals, is to expand the mooring field from 10 to 20 spots and add more mooring balls to supplant some of the current anchoring. 

The town worked with the Infrastructure Grant Program under the marine fisheries division of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to construct the original field; it is seeking another grant this year for the expansion. If it succeeds this year, the moorings could be in place by 2024. 

“As far as I know, Carolina Beach is the only place you can go on the Intracoastal Waterway and anchor up, go to a dingy dock, and walk to the beach … or you can anchor up and go right down to the boardwalk and downtown,” Parvin said. “That’s pretty unique.” 

While Carolina Beach has some distinctive characteristics — and subsequent problems — Parvin said he thinks the leeway H.B. 79 gives the town should be available to each municipality. 

“[That] means we’re going to have to convince them to expand their budgets and put new programs in place and that would be across, you know, any waterway in the state, they wouldn’t just do it for Carolina Beach,” Parvin said. “So, it feels like the way a lot of this is leading is it’s going to be on the municipalities.” 

Carolina Beach’s H.B. 79 has been in the House Committee on Marine Resources and Aquaculture since Feb. 9, while the Pender County beach town’s H.B. 449 remains in the House Committee on Local Government since March 23. 

The bills will need to be passed by the House by May 4 to meet the General Assembly’s crossover deadline. 

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at 

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