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Board Asked To Change Law On Trawlers At Town Docks
Fishing Ships & Intent Of Land Swap
September 2, 2014

T
he issue of large fishing trawlers docking at Oriental’s Town Dock may not be over.

Former mayor Sherrill Styron implored the Town Board at its agenda meeting on August 28 to reverse its vote three weeks earlier that in effect banned commercial fishing trawlers from the Town Docks.  

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The scene at Oriental’s new Town Dock on August 2 as the 80-foot long trawler Gulf Stream III tied up. It was the third weekend that commercial trawlers had done so, and prompted the Town Board on August 5 to limit commercial boats at the Town Docks as part of the Town’s Docking Ordinance. (Photo: Lynn Hines)

In comments that ran to a quarter of an hour at the Thursday meeting, Styron, the owner of Garland Fulcher Seafood, equated opposition to trawlers at the public docks to opposition to commercial fishing.  

Land Swap Dock At Center Of Controversy

The Board’s August 5 ordinance vote came after three successive weekends during which fishing trawlers up to 80 feet long stayed at the Town’s newly opened Town Dock.

No trawlers have tried to stay at Oriental’s original Town Dock, on Hodges Street and it hasn’t been an issue before this year.

The controversy centers on the Town’s new Town Dock, on the southeast side of the harbor, next to the Oriental Marina’s fuel dock. It was refurbished from pilings acquired in a controversial 2012 land swap with fishing businessman Chris Fulcher.

(In that swap, Fulcher got 13,000 square feet of Town right of way, 75 feet of harbor front and 60 feet of river front in exchange for a 5,000 square foot lot, 59 feet of harbor front and pilings from which to fashion a dock.) 

Two years ago, proponents of the uneven swap repeatedly said at town meetings that the benefit of giving up so much real estate for Fulcher’s northernmost piece of harbor property, was that it would put all of the recreational boats in one area of the harbor and leave the rest to the commercial vessels at their private docks.   (Had the town kept its 75 feet of waterfront at the South Avenue right of way, it could have built a more maneuverable docking area, but swap proponents said that would put a recreational boat dock between Fulcher’s commercial docks.)   The swap was also presented as an economic boost – to give more recreational boat crews from near and far a place to tie up and shop at the businesses in town. 

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The Gulf Stream III on Monday, August 4 when it blocked access entirely to one side of the new Town Dock. It was having an outrigger repaired. When Town Police Chief Dwaine Moore asked on Tuesday when the ship would be leaving, he says the trawler captain said he would leave when the repair was done. In that, it had well overstayed the town’s 48 hour limit at a dock.

This year, the Town planked and refashioned the pilings and opened the second free Town Dock in early summer. In July, to the surprise of many, trawlers began tying up to the dock’s deeper water slip, on the south side. It happened on two successive weekends in July. Then, on the first weekend in August, a trawler, Gulf Stream III tied up for four days to have an outrigger replaced via Chris Fulcher’s adjacent property.

August 5 Vote Put Limit on Commercial Vessels at Town Docks

The Board’s August 5 meeting drew a large number of residents. Those who spoke on the issue asked the Town to live up to the spirit of what was represented by proponents of the land swap — a second Town Dock for recreational vessels.  
One resident on August 5 took issue with Fulcher continuing to use, if indirectly, the newly rebuilt dock whose pilings he’d given up in the swap.  

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Former Town Commissioner Warren Johnson was among the residents who asked the Town Board on August 5 to maintain the Town Docks as places for recreational vessels only.

Sherrill Styron did not attend that August 5 meeting, but a letter from him, calling on the town to allow trawlers to use the new dock, was read aloud by Mayor Bill Sage.  In the letter, Styron stated that commercial crews spent money when they are when in town, too.    

On a proposal from Commissioner David White the Board voted 5-0 that the ordinance make clear that commercial vessels not use the Town Docks, with the exceptions of chartered recreational boats, chartered recreational fishing boats, and tow boats.

3 Weeks Later, A Call To Overturn August 5 Vote

By contrast to the heavily attended Board meeting earlier that month, the agenda meeting on August 27 had just three members of the public in attendance and only one, Styron, speaking on the issue.  In his quarter hour talking to the Board, Styron repeatedly equated the new ordinance to a slap at commercial fishing. “Anybody here that don’t like fishing boats and can’t put up with fishing boats,” said Styron, “they need to go back where they come from.”

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Sherrill Styron, owner of Garland Fulcher Seafood, where many trawlers unload their catch in Oriental. At the August 28 Agenda Meeting of the Town Board, he asked that the August 5 vote to limit commercial docking at the Town Docks, be reversed.

Commissioner David White tried, in turns, to explain why he proposed the ordinance that now keeps trawlers from tying up at Oriental’s free public docks.  

White noted that on one Sunday when a trawler was occupying the side of the new Town Dock, he’d seen four recreational boats come in to the harbor and then leave upon finding the trawler where they wanted to tie up.

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Commissioner David White, speaking here at the August 5 meeting of the Town Board. At the August 28 Agenda Meeting, he reiterated why he thought the Board had to take action to keep the Town Docks for recreational vessels’ use.

Further, said White, “if you look at our overall position around the harbor, we don’t have a lot” of places for a recreational boat to tie up.  For that reason, White said, he felt it necessary to have an ordinance stating that the two Town Docks were for recreational boating with just some limited commercial — recreational charters, tow-boats — use. 

Styron said he hoped “the other four (commissioners) feel different than you do.” 

Styron said that he was about to leave on a vacation to Alaska and when he came back, he wanted to read news that the ordinance was being changed to allow the trawlers at the Town Docks.  

Possible Changes To The Ordinance

The Town Board did not say it would put the issue on the agenda for its meeting on Tuesday September 2 but some Commissioners noted that when they voted in early August, they said they thought it could be fine tuned later.   The Board said it would send the matter to the newly appointed permanent Harbor Waterfronts Committee, which meets Wednesday.     It’s also possible, a board member said, that it could come up in Commissioners Comments Tuesday night.

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The new Town Dock, between land and docks owned by Chris Fulcher to the southwest and the Oriental Marina’s fuel dock to the northeast. Acquired as pilings with some planking in the land swap with Fulcher, it was entirely replanked by the Town and its creosoted pilings covered in strippling.Many thought it would be a dock strictly for recreational use, as was promoted by the land swap proponents in 2012.

In his comments at the Agenda meeting, Commissioner Larry Summers said the Board may want to amend the August 5 ordinance so that instead of limiting boats by their use, the Town could instead  rule out any boat longer than 50 feet at the Town Docks.  From the audience, Styron asked why a boat as long as the 80 foot dock couldn’t tie up.  Summers said it was because he envisioned two boats being able to dock on each side of the Town Dock.  Styron reiterated that he wanted the big trawlers to be able to tie up.

After the agenda meeting, Commissioner Charlie Overcash said he could envision a compromise that allows the trawlers to tie up to the new Town Dock two months of the year, during the summer weekends when shrimp trawlers are in town.  Asked how that would square with the representation two years ago, that the new dock acquired in the land swap would be a place for pleasure craft, separate from the commercial craft,  Overcash said he wasn’t aware the land swap had been proposed in that way.  

There may be other ways to achieve that original idea that the new Town Dock be for the use of recreational vessels. Elsewhere in Oriental’s docking ordinance, approved on August 5, the use of generators is banned while a vessel is  at any of the Town Docks.  That is something that the large commercial trawlers, which keep their lights on all night, might have a hard time living up to. One other option might be a limit on the use of deck lights while at a Town Dock.

The Town Board meets at 7p on Tuesday September 2.  A public comment period comes at the beginning of the meeting.  Members of the public are generally asked to limit their comments to 3 minutes per person, but sometimes, as was the case at the agenda meeting, that is waived.  

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Update: Commissioner David White provided the 5-member Harbor Waterfronts Committee at its Sept 3 meeting with an information sheet on the issue and further research he did regarding other coastal towns’ docking rules. His finding is that Oriental is not alone in limiting the use of its docks to recreational vessels.To download David White’s information sheet to the Harbor Waterfronts Committee, click here.

Another document that supports that approach is Oriental’s 2011 application for a grant to build a second town dock off of the right of way at the end of South Avenue. In the application, the proposed 120 foot long dock, with space for 6 boats, and 80 feet of harborfront to maneuver in, is described repeatedly as being for tourist and transient boaters. One example: the second paragraph of that grant application states that Oriental’s economy now relies more heavily on the transient boat traffic than on the commercial fishing business. That proposal for a dock eventually morphed in to the land swap with Chris Fulcher in which the town got the shorter dock where, this year, trawlers tied up and sparked the Town Board’s August vote.

Posted Tuesday September 2, 2014 by Melinda Penkava


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