Worth study

Published 10:44 pm Saturday, April 28, 2007

By Staff
The decision by the Washington Planning Board to establish a subcommittee to explore strategies for placing mooring fields in the Pamlico River off the city’s waterfront is a rather bold one.
After all, the city’s existing land-use plan excludes mooring fields as a way to handle boat traffic. But the draft of the amended land-use plan reverses that stand. It’s likely that later this year the City Council will adopt the revised land-use plan.
Mooring fields appear to make sense, especially for Washington. As the city works to attract more and more boaters, it must provide somewhere for those boats to tie up. Mooring fields would provide those berthing areas. By using mooring fields, the city could become less dependent on using traditional docks along its waterfront to provide berths for boats.
There’s been some talk about not allowing more docks to spring up like mushrooms along the city’s waterfront. Too many docks would spoil the view. Allowing boats to moor out in the Pamlico River would help in that regard. Besides, installing mooring fields would be cheaper than building new docks, which the city recently received a grant to do. Two more T-docks are planned for the city’s waterfront.
That said, it’s time to consider how mooring fields could affect the river and nearby environs, including adjacent property owners.
The state’s Coastal Area Management Act’s regulations say mooring fields must provide suitable access areas to moorings and land-based operation, including wastewater pumpout, trash disposal and parking. The city has a wastewater pump-out station at its city docks.
Other requirements include the following:
It’s the potential threats to the river’s water quality and aquatic life that concern some people or organizations, including the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation. And they should be concerned with potential effects of mooring fields on the environment.
Heather Jacobs, the Pamlico-Tar riverkeeper, addressed those concerns last fall during a meeting of the Planning Board. Jacobs 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. She wondered who would be responsible for making sure boaters using a mooring field did not dump waste, garbage and other potential contaminants into the river.
At that meeting, Bob Jenks, who’s served as an assistant harbor master for 32 years in a town in Maine, said mooring sites must be maintained and inspected on a regular basis. Harbor masters are responsible for managing mooring fields, he noted. The Planning Board is expected to look at developing a water-use and harbor-management plan as it explores the mooring field issue.
Protecting the Pamlico River should be the first item on the list for the Planning Board to consider as it begins its work on mooring fields. A degraded Pamlico River won’t attract boaters. Without boaters there would be no need for mooring fields.