BEAUFORT — Beaufort commissioners Monday evening approved amendments to ordinances governing the town’s navigable waters, but also opted to seek additional guidance to refine them in the future.
The decision came during town commissioners’ regular session in the Broad Street train depot.
The ordinance has to do with mooring during storm-related emergencies, and states that, “Within 4 hours of a hurricane warning being declared by the National Weather Service, anchored vessels shall not be permitted in any of the navigable waters of the Town of Beaufort except for the Town Creek Harbor of Refuge.
“Vessels in Town Creek during a hurricane warning must be adequately secured by at least two anchors, and all parts and contents of the vessels shall also be adequately secured.”
According to information staff provided for the meeting, “The recent experience with Hurricane Dorian illustrated the need to amend the Town’s Navigable Waters Ordinance with regard to securing anchored vessels.”
Following Hurricane Dorian in September and last year’s Hurricane Florence, staff expressed concern about boat owners who opted to moor their vessels in Beaufort’s navigable waters. According to the language within the ordinance, “recent Hurricanes Florence and Dorian resulted in boats becoming unsecured from their anchors resulting in damages.”
Monday, Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton specified some of the damages the town sustained. He said the town had at least six vessels that dragged their anchors onto shore on the west side of the town.
“It is problematic,” Mayor Newton said.
As its name implies, the Federal Harbor of Refuge is owned by the federal government and isn’t subject to Beaufort’s ordinances.
“What we cannot do is prohibit folks from anchoring, during a storm, in a harbor of refuge,” Town Manager John Day said. “That’s something we don’t have the authority to do.”
The town does, however, have the authority to manage its own navigable waters, thanks to legislation passed by the state’s General Assembly.
Navigable waters are the waters directly adjacent to the town’s limits.
“This is an effort to try and get…those folks who are going to stay, to get them into one place and make them as secure as they can be,” Mr. Day said. ‘That’s all we’re asking.”
Commissioner Marianna Hollinshed said that pushing boaters looking for refuge into the area might hurt nearby marinas.
“I think it might need to be refined a little bit,” said Ms. Hollinshed, who added that the board should probably put off the decision until their November meeting.
Ms. Hollinshed said that since it’s still hurricane season, if there is an additional storm during the season, the town can always convene in an emergency meeting to discuss the matter.
Commissioner John Hagle asked if there were any ways the town could work with the federal government. Mayor Newton agreed, saying this is something town officials should discuss with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Maybe this is the right time to start that conversation,” Mayor Newton said.
The mayor added they should be cautious if they do plan to postpone the decision.
“We need to let people know what the standard is now, not when we are all trying to pack up for a hurricane,” Mayor Newton said.
He later suggested that, while the current amendment language wasn’t perfect, the town should more forward with it and refine it later. Commissioners Ann Carter agreed and made the suggestion in a motion that was unanimously approved.
The amendment is the most recent in a series of town efforts to better control its navigable waters. In April 2018, the town held a community meeting to gauge how best to go about addressing the number of derelict boats that were anchored throughout the town’s navigable waters. Eventually the town formally expressed its capacity to remove derelict boats in a series of ordinances.
Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.