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December 5, 2013
The homesteading boats that have taken up the deepest and most protected waters of Oriental’s anchorage caused slim pickings for visiting boats this summer and fall. A number of other boats crews opted not to stop in Oriental this year.
That raised a question as to why the Town couldn’t impose a time limit in the anchorage in order to give more boats a chance to visit. The conventional response has been that the Town didn’t have “jurisdiction.”
One Town Commissioner, Larry Summers has been urging his colleagues for months to formally ask the town’s Legislative delegation to get that jurisdiction for Oriental, by way of a “local bill” in the NC General Assembly next May. Summers has cited the experience the town of Carolina Beach had in getting such a local bill through the Legislature. At a Town Board meeting December 3, Oriental’s Town Attorney Scott Davis questioned whether Carolina Beach actually got jurisdiction. (The New Bern-based attorney also said that he’d only considered the matter while driving to Oriental for the meeting.) Summers challenged the legal advice at the meeting.
That prompted a Letter To The Editor:
To the Editor:
Recently I spoke with a close friend who slips his boat in a harbor along Florida’s Sunset Coast. I informed him of the issues facing Oriental’s harbor and the “homesteading boats” therein. As a sailor and property owner in Oriental, I’m concerned about the future of the harbor, and voiced my misgivings to my friend.
My friend’s story of his harbor’s issues was not unlike that of Oriental. In the mid-90s a single “homesteading boat” took up residence in his town’s harbor for a bit over two years. During that time the boat had degenerated from a derelict to a dump, the deck piled high with accumulated wood, junk items, and refuse. It was an eyesore, not to mention a hazard. The local city council attempted to move the owner along, pulling out the stops of all “apparent” legal channels, but the owner was smart enough to know that there was little the community could do. Here’s where the story gets interesting: Word apparently travels quickly among ne’er-do-well boaters, and within the next 5-7 years no less than 9 additional “homesteading” boats found their way into the harbor. Most were not as great an eyesore as the first, but all came for the purpose of permanent anchorage. One even broke loose in a storm and damaged several expensive boats in their slips before sinking.
Realizing the potential for ruination of their harbor’s reputation as a waypoint for transient boats, the city council finally enacted several pieces of restrictive legislation to govern the utilization of the harbor. While the owners of the derelict boats had no financial resources to mount a legal challenge to the council’s new laws, a couple of non-local “do-gooders,” sympathetic to the “homesteaders,” did, and launched several pieces of litigation against the town. Ultimately the town prevailed and the laws governing their harbor remain to this day.
The point is: the battle for control of a community’s harbor is likely neither an easy nor inexpensive one, but with will, determination, and perseverance it can be achieved. While I’m unfamiliar with North Carolina and Florida law governing community harbors, I suspect they may be similar if not identical. At the very least it would be a worthwhile gesture on the part of the Oriental Town Board to investigate thoroughly the possibility of gaining control over the harbor before Oriental becomes, as did my friend’s harbor, a Mecca for derelict “homesteading boats.” I am aware that the Oriental Town Board is on the verge of considering such moves, and I wish them the best of luck in their endeavor.
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