Dredging fees maintain ecosystems, safety
With regards to your April 15 editorial “Unfair fees on small crafts”: There are several points that need to be addressed. This issue is not just a coastal issue – this is a statewide issue. General Fund appropriations are used across the state to dredge freshwater lakes such as Lake Junaluska and highway dollars are used to clear mountain passes such as Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) after landslides.
Navigational channels, which serve as highways for boaters, are filling up. This year it is estimated that 134,000 people will travel the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway and side channel inlets. Without regular dredging, these shallow inlets will rapidly fill in, resulting in the Coast Guard pulling navigational buoys.
There are several adverse safety, economic and environmental effects that may result if shallow inlets are allowed to fill up:
• Safety – Weekend boaters, recreational fishermen and coastal residents could become victims of nonmarked inlets and sections of Intercoastal Waterway.
• Economic – Commercial fishing, recreational fishing and tourism industries could lose at least $100 million in revenue, and approximately 1,000 jobs could be lost. This could result in the cancellation of popular fishing tournaments.
• Environmental – Several species of fish such as stripers, red drum and flounder may not be able to spawn using open channels.
I also want to clear up several misconceptions about the dredging fund established in Senate Bill 58.
• Federal funding for shallow inlet dredging has ended, making state funding a priority if we want to keep our inlets navigable. Most of our shallow draft inlets have not received federal funding since 2004 for dredging.
• Current boat registration fees are used for enforcement, boat ramps and boating access projects throughout the state. In the past five years, over $33 million has been spent on dredging projects in 46 counties. The bill will slightly raise annual registration fees for boats up to 25 feet to $25 and to $50 for larger boats. These proposed fees are still lower than many of the fees in our surrounding states. Large, federally documented vessels and commercial fishermen would no longer be exempt while small sailboats and canoes would still be exempt from numbering fees.
• Of the estimated $12 million in highway use taxes paid by boaters annually on fuel, only a modest 1/6 will be used to dredge shallow inlets.
• Coastal communities using local funding sources would be required to provide a 1:1 match for proposed projects.
As you can see, dredging is an issue important to safety, the state’s economy and environment.
State Sen. Harry Brown
The writer, a Republican, represents N.C. District 6. The length limit was waived to allow a fuller response to the editorial.