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By Connie Leinbach
The Ocracoke Waterways Commission is working on better regulation of boats at anchor in Ocracoke’s Silver Lake Harbor.
The group, at its meeting Dec. 18, agreed to read over an ordinance from Brunswick County, supplied by Hyde County Manager Bill Rich, and use it as a starting point for a new county ordinance regulating these boats.
“We only have so much space,” said Chairman David Hilton, “but can we create some kind of organization of these boats that doesn’t mean mooring balls.”
The issue of monitoring the anchored boats has been a thorny issue for several years, and the biggest concerns are that some don’t have adequate anchors for when major storms or hurricanes occur.
The island got a taste of this in October when, during a high-wind storm, two unattended boats became unmoored and blew into the Anchorage Marina docks. Anchorage personnel captured the wayward boats and tied them up at NPS dock slips. One subsequently sank and both remain unmoved.
Loose boats could also slam into transient boats and other private docks around the harbor.
“Just two weeks ago, a poorly anchored boat slammed into a private dock during a hard blow out of the north, damaged the dock and then sank,” explained Tom Pahl, Ocracoke’s county commissioner. “That makes two boats currently on the bottom in Silver Lake Harbor.”
Hilton stressed that once something is in place, enforcement could involve preliminary greeting of newcomers to find out how many are on board (in case of emergencies), give them a copy of the regulations and make sure they have adequate insurance.
Hyde County Public Information Officer Donnie Shumate suggested that a “please check in” sign could also be installed at the harbor entrance.
The commission wants to ensure that those folks living on boats in the harbor adhere to the regulations (such as having adequate lights on masts and proper waste disposal) while having enough room for the transient boating community.
Both the (federal) Coast Guard and the state Fish and Wildlife Commission have their own sets of boating regulations.
The Brunswick county ordinance authorizes the county sheriff to enforce the ordinance, which includes impounding offending boats and getting rid of them. For Hyde County to do this more money would have to be budgeted, and a site on the island would be needed as an impoundment area, Rich said.
But he added that “there’s money out there” in state coffers for this purpose, and Allen Moran, the new member of the state Board of Transportation in the district that covers Ocracoke, is looking into it, too.
“We need to address these problems in a way that forces boat owners to take responsibility before the boats become a cost to the county,” Pahl said.
Rich said before the county commissioners approve any ordinance, the state General Assembly has to sanction it.
“It can be tacked onto a bill,” Rich said.
He will work with the county’s lobbyists, Joe and Henri McClees of Oriental.
All of this will be further explored at both the February and March meetings with the hope of having an ordinance in place in April.
In other action, the group changed the January meeting (typically at 5:30 p.m. on the third Monday, which this year is the Martin Luther King holiday) to Jan. 29.
It will focus on the Hatteras Inlet ferry route, which was further discussed at their November meeting.
Lance Winslow, environmental supervisor for the NCDOT, said the “horse shoe,” which is the current long route, has been surveyed but the data has not yet been compiled, though information should be available by the Jan. 29 meeting.
The group is hoping a section near the 90-degree turn at the end of Hatteras Island can be dredged enough to cut off about 15 minutes from the one-hour time the ride takes now, but Winslow said that area is now too shallow to get their survey boat into it.
“Harold Thomas (N.C. Ferry Division director) is gung-ho to find a shorter route,” Hilton said.
The group agreed to ask the Hyde County commissioners to ask the NCDOT to do a full study of the entire inlet and the current route the ferries use “to find an alternative to the long route that’s permanent and sustainable.”
“The best alternative to the long route is shortening it up,” said commission member Rudy Austin.
This approval will be on the Jan. 8 Hyde Commissioners meeting agenda at 6 p.m. Jan. 8.