Boat landing rule revision exempts small charters
Charter boats carrying up to six passengers would be allowed to operate out of Georgetown County’s public landings under a proposed ordinance change. The boats would also be limited to 30 feet in length.
The change comes after a magistrate found six fishing charter captains not guilty of violating the existing ordinance.
“The not-guilties were based on the same concerns I had expressed to the county attorney back in July,” said Sheriff Carter Weaver, who attended the trials.
The county began enforcing the 30-year-old prohibition against commercial activity at boat landings after the city of Georgetown sought an injunction against a tour boat operating from East Bay Park. Rover Tours moved to the county-owned Carroll Campbell Marine Complex on the south side of the Sampit River. Deputies ordered the boat to move.
But Weaver said at the time that he thought the ordinance was too broadly worded to be enforceable. And if enforced to the letter of the law, he said, it would prohibit events such as the professional fishing tournaments that the county hosts at the Campbell facility.
The proposed revision retains the ban on commercial activities, but creates an exemption for captains who have an “operator of uninspected passenger vessels” license from the Coast Guard, which is known as a “six-pack” because of the limit on the number of passengers. Other licenses captains are exempted provided the boats are no longer than 30 feet and they carry no more than six passengers.
The exemption would cover fishing guides and small tour boats.
Weaver called that a “common-sense, clear ordinance that’s enforceable.”
“It’s never going to be perfect,” he added.
County Council Member Bob Anderson, who worked on the proposal with Weaver and Jay Watson, the county attorney, said his goal was never to allow large tour boats to use the landings.
“These people want us to take care of their commercial needs. We can’t afford the real estate to do that,” Anderson said. “It’s a matter of money.”
A series of speakers at recent council meetings have asked the county to accommodate the tour boats, suggesting the Campbell landing as a possible site. They pointed out that the tours boost tourism and an awareness of the county’s natural resources.
Chris Spigner, a Georgetown resident who lobbied the council to revise the ordinance, said this week “I personally was ecstatic when I saw there was a proposed change on tonight’s agenda.”
Then she read the text.
“I am deeply saddened that larger tour boats have been denied any access,” Spigner said. “This council had decided to take the easy way out.”
She said boats up to 40 feet carrying 40 passengers, such as Rover Tours, should be able to use the Campbell landing.
Anderson said the proper place for those operations are commercial docks.
“Where does the county draw the line?” Weaver asked. “The county does a great job of providing facilities for the public and the taxpayers.”
The revised ordinance, which received first reading this week without discussion, also changes the wording to include “boat ramps, docks, piers, landings, parking and access areas” as “public boat facilities” that are regulated.
It creates a no-wake zone within 100 feet of those facilities and prohibits swimming and other recreational activities within 100 feet. The prohibition is 50 feet in the current ordinance and includes fishing.
The revision prohibits fishing within 30 feet of the facilities when they are in use by a boater.
There is also an exemption from the ordinance for events sponsored or sanctioned by the county at its boat facilities.