Senate Bill 58 is an attempt to require boats based on their length to pay a larger share of the costs of maintaining and dredging coastal waterways. However, its obvious the bulk of the increased fees would be derived from the smaller lake and river-based boats, which largely consist of recreational fishermen and pleasure boaters.
Anyone who is familiar with our waterways understands that very few recreational boats require waters over 3 feet deep to operate; most require less. Boat length has nothing to do with shoal waters. The majority of craft that require deep waters, with few exceptions, invariably include US Customs-documented commercial craft as cargo, tugs, dredges, tour and offshore fishing boats.
There is no justification for dredging salt water inlets for the typical smaller recreation boats such as kayaks, canoes, john boats, bass boats and the like. The majority are primarily based on our fresh water lakes and rivers, and they would receive no benefit in return for their carrying the majority of financial load sought to fund coastal dredging programs.
Further, for those who have not yet learned, beaches and shoals move. What must be kept in mind is that the continuous and natural sand movement has always been part, and must be expected, around N.C.s ever shifting inlets. It is essential we learn how to best live with nature.
Environmental impact should take the highest priority, because whenever dredging takes place, the natural life will be altered or destroyed. Any knowledgeable fisherman can recount that what were once thriving nursery areas for hard shell clam, scallop, whelk and oysters are invariably completely destroyed by dredging, leaving behind vast areas of maritime deserts. An obvious example is shown by coquina populations, those fingernail-sized clams, normally found numbering in the thousands along unaltered beaches, providing forage for seabirds, fiddler crabs and other organisms, which in turn support an assortment of more commercially valued species, which in turn eventually provide food for recreationally important drum, tuna and billfishes.
It would be interesting to ascertain the actual total costs, damage and futility of constantly maintaining bridges, roadways, inlets and channels in order to subsidize our developed beaches.
If the state wants to sponsor ferry operations, it is the channel users who should pick up the bill. If private marinas require dredging, let them pick up any costs (after completing environmental impact studies). Consider that North Carolinas boat-building and fishing industries were successful and active long before any state dredging subsidy programs were conceived.
It is not the small (shallow draft) freshwater boat owners responsibility to begin subsidizing coastal dredging programs.
Bob Simpson, a former News & Observer outdoors writer, writes the N&Os weekly nature editorial.