Eastern North Carolina is a beautiful place. It’s no wonder that it has become a hot spot for retirees and vacationers. But with the increased popularity and privatization of coastal property, residents who have traditionally had access to the state’s coastal waters are being shut out. Finally, the state is putting money toward preserving the gift that many of us have long taken for granted.
The recently approved state budget provided $20 million to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries to fund the preservation of commercial and recreational waterfront access, and rightly so. The new fund, called the Waterfront Access and Marine Industry Fund, is a sign to eastern North Carolina that the state recognizes the loss of access to public water.
The director of Marine Fisheries, Louis Daniel, said in an interview Thursday that the state has “absolutely seen a loss of both commercial and recreational access to the water” recently.
Daniel attributes the loss to condominium complexes and the increasing demand for coastal real estate. He cited crowded boat ramps and fishermen whose docks have been turned into condos as signs that the problem is getting out of hand.
Beaufort County is not immune to the problem. Whichard’s Beach, a popular public beach on the southern shore of the Pamlico River for more than 40 years, is scheduled to be replaced by the Rembrey at Pamlico Shores — a high-rise, luxury condominium complex. Without that public access to the Pamlico, Fountain Powerboats decided to move its annual International Superboat Grand Prix to Morehead City, where spectators could better view the race.
The public boat ramp at Havens Gardens is so crowded during weekends that trucks line the street waiting their turns to put boats in the river. Daniel said he has heard the same story from boaters all along the coast. That is one of the problems the new fund should help correct, he said.
Daniel said he plans to use the state funding to preserve multiuse waterfront access points along the coast. That way, both commercial fishermen and the average boater will be protected against the privatization of the state’s shoreline.
With the Buoy Tender Station and Moss Landing going up in Washington, there is little doubt that the future owners of properties in those developments will bring dollars to the area. But, with more of our shoreline being taken up with high-dollar real estate, it falls to government to protect the claim of all residents to the state’s public waters. The state has at least given a nod of recognition by giving the appropriate agency funding and authorization to preserve public access to water. It is time that county and municipal bodies answer the same call.
Bath and Washington officials have done just that by developing their own land-use plans in accord with the state Coastal Area Management Act.
Washington’s City Planner Bobby Roberson said in a recent interview that the city’s plan incorporates “attachment to water” as a “key element.”
It is good to know that city officials understand that water and access to it are important draws in eastern North Carolina. All coastal counties are charged with drafting and implementing their own CAMA land-use plans. Beaufort County’s is in the works; Hyde County’s plan is up for Coastal Resources Commission certification from the state in September.
During the process of finalizing those documents, it is the duty of everyone who loves the water to speak up for the preservation of access to it. The state’s $20 million will not solve the problem, but “in areas of need, it could do something good for traditional fishing communities and insure future public access as well,” Daniel said.
“We need to preserve those access points. It’s a big problem,” he said.
If, in a state with as much coastline as North Carolina has, residents are finding it difficult to make a living or find enjoyment in public waters, we think it is, too.