Tuesday, September 26, 2023

General Assembly approves 2 bills requested by local beach towns

Carolina Beach (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — A moratorium on shark fishing tournaments in several local beach towns has passed the North Carolina General Assembly, along with legislation allowing municipalities to remove abandoned vessels in navigable waters.

The coastal towns have been pushing state representatives for both bills throughout the legislative session. 

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

ALSO: Brunswick commissioners support local rep’s shark fishing tournament ban

In April Brunswick County commissioners approved a resolution supporting House Bill 544, to prohibit taking sharks from the shoreline or a structure built on the shore, such as a pier, as part of a recreational fishing tournament from May 1 to Oct. 31. The law, put forth by Rep. Charles Miller (R-New Hanover, Brunswick), only applies to Carolina, Caswell, Holden, Kure, Oak Island and Bald Head Island beaches. 

The bill follows Southport business owner Marty Wright’s attempt to host a fishing tournament, and drop bait into the waters to funnel fish to the shore, along the Brunswick County coastline in June 2022. 

The event received some pushback from beach town leaders, with Holden Beach commissioners filing a temporary restraining order to prohibit the event. Months later, a judge canceled the event due to safety hazards. Several town leaders deemed shark fishing tournaments unsafe for beachgoers.

The law will take effect July 1, 2023. 

Beach towns also gained the authority to regulate abandoned vessels in corporate limits with the passage of Senate Bill 465. 

Several Pender County towns — Surf City, Topsail Beach and North Topsail Beach — along with Carolina Beach in neighboring New Hanover supported separate bills granting them more latitude over their coastal waters. House Bill 449 would have granted Pender towns the right to remove abandoned vessels from its navigable waters. The Town of Carolina Beach’s legislation, House Bill 79, offers the same authority but is more broad. It would have allowed Carolina Beach to make any rules for its waters that do not conflict with superseding federal and state agencies. 

Regulating coastal water largely 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. 

Ed Parvin, Carolina Beach’s assistant town manager, told Port City Daily in March abandoned vessels are a “huge issue” from Maine to Florida and the town needed “more teeth” to address it. 

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

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, Topsail mayor and 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.

Neither bill passed; rather a different proposal, Senate Bill 465, was ratified last week. However, SB 465 allows any municipality to remove abandoned vessels from its waters.

The municipality could prohibit, by ordinance, the abandonment of vessels in navigable waters within the corporate limits. 

This includes a vessel that is:

  • Moored, anchored, or otherwise located for more than 30 consecutive days in any 180 consecutive-day period without permission of the dock owner
  • In danger of sinking, has sunk, is resting on the bottom, or is located such that it is a hazard to navigation or is an immediate danger to other vessels.

Shipwrecks, vessels, cargoes, tackle, and other underwater archeological remains that have been in place for more than 10 years shall not be considered abandoned vessels. To remove, the municipality where they reside would need to coordinate with the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. 

The law takes effect immediately.

Carolina Beach’s proposed legislation would have gone further than abandoned vessel management. In March, Parvin said the town has issues with those living on boats that anchor in the harbor, then dump their waste directly into the sea instead of proper channels. The deputy town manager also reported boats breaking anchor, causing them to sometimes hit piers and private property. The town was requesting the ability to enact regulations and enforcement measures for these activities.

Following the bill’s passage, Port City Daily asked Parvin how the town is preparing to implement S.B. 465. Carolina Beach’s proposed budget includes “a few” part-time positions to assist the harbor master with enforcement of the new law.

“The next steps for us will be to discuss how we can partner with the state and counties to resolve the issues under the allowances granted by the General Assembly,” Parvin said. “Once we agree on what the town’s role will be, we can go back and amend our codes.”

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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