Waterfront access committee makes recommendations

RALEIGH, N.C. – During a meeting in Raleigh last week, North Carolina’s Waterfront Access Study Committee presented 27 recommendations in its report submitted to the N.C. Joint Legislative Commission on Seafood and Aquaculture, the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission and the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, North Carolina Sea Grant reported in a recent statement.

The committee “believes that the need to ensure existing waterfront-dependent uses, to ensure future diverse waterfront-dependent uses of the shoreline, and to retain and enhance public access to coastal public trust waters is an important and urgent issue confronting the people of North Carolina, and that there are grounds for an immediate, comprehensive, and creative response by the State,” the report’s executive summary explains.

“Skyrocketing market demand for this limited, finite shoreline resource, accelerating non-waterfront-dependent development of the shoreline, and steadily increasing real property taxes are among the factors contributing to this loss and strongly suggest that, without State intervention, this disturbing trend will continue to the detriment of the people of the State of North Carolina.”

Established by the General Assembly last year, the 21-member study committee has been meeting since September, including three public comment sessions. Members represent a spectrum of interests, including state and local agencies and commissions; scholars; and business interests, including economic development, fisheries, marine trades and real estate, Sea Grant reported.

“This was a special committee — not only due to its specific charge and focus, but also because the members contributed openly, held great respect for each other’s and the public’s viewpoints, and participated with a remarkable sense of mission and public service,” said Michael P. Voiland, North Carolina Sea Grant executive director, who chaired the committee.

The complete report is available online at www.ncseagrant.org/waterfronts. The recommendations fall into several major areas, including:

  • Retaining and Enhancing Working Waterfronts — The committee recommends establishment of a trust fund or some other distinct set-aside of state funds to assist in the retention and enhancement of working waterfronts along coastal public trust waters. Other recommendations include extending the present use value taxation option now used for farms and forest lands to ease the rising tax burden on working waterfront businesses.
  • Enhancing Public Access to Coastal Waters — The committee recommends increased funding for several existing state programs that promote access to coastal public trust waters, including programs within the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the N.C. Division of Coastal Management and the N.C. Division of Water Resources, as well as programs expected to be supported by Coastal Recreational Fishing License fees.
  • Planning and Zoning Approaches to Waterfront and Access Issues — The committee recommends that local governments in the coastal region explore potential uses of special zoning techniques as means to retain or enhance working waterfronts and/or public access facility development, consistent with land-use plans as required by the Coastal Area Management Act. The committee also recommends that state guidelines and regulations be amended to provide grants to assist local government efforts.
  • Purchase or Transfer of Development Rights — The committee recommends that the General Assembly consider enacting legislation to expand purchase of development rights and transfer of development rights programs at the local level, for use in working waterfront and/or public access retention and enhancement programs.
  • Fishing Piers: A North Carolina Heritage — The committee recommends that the state include private fishing piers (those providing public access) within the working waterfronts definition as part of an expansion of present use value tax eligibility. The committee suggests that the state provide a source of low-interest loans to cover storm damage to piers. Also, the committee recommends that the N.C. Aquariums be authorized and funded to pilot the development of three public piers to provide access and educational opportunities for anglers and others.
  • Fees for Public Trust of Submerged Lands Easements — The committee recommends that the General Assembly re-examine and possibly reformulate the public trust submerged lands easement fee structure, and recommends that the state review the nature and legality of long-term or permanent sale of docks or “dockominiums” that occupy coastal public trust submerged lands.
  • Meeting Environmental Compliance Costs — The committee recommends that funding sources and mechanisms be made available to assist working waterfront and public access facility developers, pursuant to local government approval, in developing or redeveloping facilities along the waterfront in ways that fully comply with environmental regulations.
  • Need for a Socioeconomic Study — The committee recommends that the General Assembly provide funding for a socioeconomic study of working waterfronts and access to coastal public trust waters to examine the issues comprehensively and in detail.
  • Cooperative State-Local Partnerships and Approaches — The committee recommends that the General Assembly encourage coastal counties and waterfront municipalities to establish working waterfront and public access advisory bodies, with ex-officio representation from state agencies, to seek cooperative inter-governmental solutions to waterfront and access issues.
  • Educational Outreach — The committee recommends that the General Assembly fund educational outreach programs to improve retention and enhancement of working waterfronts and public access to coastal waters.
  • Further Study and Oversight — The committee recommends that the General Assembly establish a formal joint legislative commission to continue the work of the Waterfront Access Study Committee, and to guide any programs or actions implemented from the study committee’s work or related deliberations.
  • “Despite the tight deadline and complexity of waterfront land-use issues, the committee has offered the state a good starting point — an early action plan, if you will — for redressing the loss of waterfront diversity and public access along the state’s shorelines,” Voiland concluded.

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