Planning Board pursues mooring fields

Published 10:20 pm Friday, April 27, 2007

By Staff
Draft land-use plan calls for reversing current city policy
Contributing Editor
Washington’s Planning Board is establishing a subcommittee to explore strategies for placing mooring fields in the Pamlico River off the city’s waterfront.
During a meeting Wednesday night, board members John Tate and Bob Henkle agreed to serve on the subcommittee. Other members of the subcommittee have yet to be named.
The draft Coastal Area Management Act land-use plan for the city, which was crafted by the board, calls for a sea change when it comes to mooring fields. The city’s existing CAMA plan does not support setting up mooring fields in the city’s waterways. The city is required to update its CAMA land-use plan on a regular basis.
The draft land-use plan will be forwarded soon to the City Council for its consideration. At the local level, the council has the final say on the land-use plan.
The draft land-use plan includes a provision calling for the city to create a water-use and harbor-management plan to regulate and oversee mooring fields. Dale Holland with Holland Consulting Planners, the company helping the city update its land-use plan, told the board that a water-use plan is required in order for the city to set up mooring fields in the river.
Developing a water-use plan that would set forth rules for mooring fields may be difficult, according to Roberson, Holland and Lee Padrick, director of the N.C. Division of Community Assistance’s office in Washington. The state has few regulations concerning mooring fields, they said. And those regulations mostly address protecting the environment and not operation and management of mooring fields.
Only one town, Carolina Beach, has regulations governing mooring fields.
Padrick, who’s been researching the mooring-fields issue, said he’s not sure if Carolina Beach has built its mooring fields yet.
Padrick said the city probably will have to conduct an environmental impact assessment of how mooring fields could affect the river and nearby environs. An ordinance that addresses mooring fields should probably include the number of mooring fields allowed, where they will be placed, details about inspecting the mooring fields, enforcing the ordinance and fees charged to pay for the inspections and enforcement of the ordinance, Padrick said.
If the city chooses to install mooring fields in the river, board members indicated that a harbor commission should be in charge of them. The existing Recreation Advisory Board could serve in the capacity, board members said.
Board members also indicated the mooring fields likely would be set up on the south side of the river. If that happens, the city probably will have to work with property owners who have waterfront property on the south river between the U.S. Highway 17 bridge and the railroad trestle.
Interest in mooring fields intensified last fall when city planners conducted an informal meeting on the issue. Speakers’ remarks included support for mooring fields, concerns with how mooring fields could affect the river and reasons for installing mooring fields.
At that meeting, Charles S. Major, a Washington resident, said the Planning Board should determine the intent behind recommendations to install mooring fields. Major asked if the intent is to encourage boaters to leave the Intracoastal Waterway and visit Washington or is it to provide a place for area boat owners to moor their vessels on a permanent basis, more or less?
Also at that meeting, Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Heather Jacobs said the sale of mooring fields in public-trust waters to private entities is something the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation would oppose, she said. Jacobs also noted the proposed site for the mooring fields — between the Norfolk Southern railroad trestle and the U.S. Highway 17 bridge — serves as a nursery area for many types of aquatic life.
Bill Sykes, a boater and city property owner, said a mooring field would give the city more control over boats moored in the river than boats riding at anchor. Federal law allows boats to anchor anywhere in water except in navigational channels. Boats using city-owned mooring fields would be regulated by the city, Sykes noted.
During storms, moorings are much safer than fixed docks, other mooring-field proponents said. Some proponents recommended a private-public mix of mooring fields.
For more coverage of the board’s meeting, see future editions of the Daily News.