Letter to Georgia Legislators by Jim Healy
Hon. Don Logan
Hon. William Ligon
Hon. Jesse Petrea
Hon. Karen Mathiak
Hon Al Williams
Hon. Lynn Smith
Ladies and Gentlemen:
My wife and I are long-term cruisers. Our boat has been our principle home for 15 years. We are “snowbirds;” annually, we cruise north to spend our summers on the Chesapeake Bay, the NYS Canal System, or along the New England Coast. Each fall, we cruise south to spend our winters in SW Florida. Both spring and fall, we utilize the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (A-ICW) to transit the magnificent Low Country of Georgia. In our travels, we take advantage of both anchorages and marinas. Georgia anchorages we’ve utilized include several places around Cumberland Island, at Jekyll Island, the Frederica River at Ft. Frederica, the Duplin River, New Teakettle Creek, the Crescent River, the Wahoo River, several places at Walburg Creek, Big Tom Creek, the Ogeechee River and the Vernon River. Marinas we have visited include Jekyll Harbor Marina, Brunswick Landing Marina, Golden Isles Marina, Two-Way Fish Camp, Kilkenny Marina, Delegal Marina, Isle of Hope Marina, Sail Harbor Boatyard and Marina, Thunderbolt Marina, and the Savannah Downtown Municipal Docks. We try to visit and enjoy different areas on each passage.
I am writing to express my general opposition to HB201. As I understand the revisions to the relevant Georgia Statutes, there appear to be two components of HB201. First is the discharge of sewage. Second is a new requirement for permits needed in order to anchor in Georgia estuarine waters. I will comment on each in turn, but I believe HB201 is based on flawed assumptions, and will only serve to confuse transient boaters like myself. Furthermore, it is going to be very difficult for boaters to comply, and both difficult and costly for Georgia Law Enforcement Officers to actually enforce. It’s hard to understand how this bill could have been adopted without input from Georgia Marina operators and from the boating public, since the burden of compliance falls on these two groups.
With regard to the discharge of sewage:
The Federal Clean Water Act of 1972 disallows the discharge of sewage within the territorial waters of the United states. It has been unlawful under federal regulations to dump any raw sewage into the territorial waters of the United states since that act took effect. Boats with USCG Type II treatment systems, which have been tested and certified by the USCG to comply with the strict requirements of onboard sewage treatment, may discharge treated effluent except in designated “No Discharge Zones.” So far as I know, the estuarine waters of Georgia have not been designated as NDZs. To emphasize, however, today it is unlawful under the regulations of the Federal Clean Water Act to discharge the contents of a holding tank or otherwise directly discharge sewage into the territorial waters of the US, which includes all of the waters of Georgia, and it has been unlawful for at least 40 years. This would seem to render the sanitation portion of HB201 unnecessary in the first place. If Georgia believe a boater is in violation, that boater can be cited under the terms of the Federal Clean Water Act of 1972.
Continuing, however, any requirement for the mechanical removal of component parts of a boat’s plumbing system is a severe hardship and unreasonable imposition on boaters who travel offshore, discharge sewage lawfully beyond the US territorial three-mile limit, and subsequently enter Georgia estuarine Public Trust waters seeking safe overnight anchorage. In this circumstance, there is no way to document compliance with HB201, which can lead to misunderstandings and inappropriate accusations in encounters between transient boaters and Georgia law enforcement officials.
The revised Georgia statue also imposes an unreasonable hardship on transient cruising boats in navigation on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and tributary estuarine waters of the state. Many cruising boats take only two or three days to transit low-country estuarine waters. A variety of circumstances might result in a boat lawfully pumping out in a non-Georgia jurisdiction (South Carolina or Florida) prior to entering Georgia state waters. Assuming a boat with a 10-14 day capacity for the holding tank, there may be no way for an otherwise compliant boater to document compliance with the Georgia statute. A southbound transient boater who pumped out in South Carolina, subsequently transited the low country, and pumped out again in Florida, is in compliance with HB201, but is unable to meet the newly imposed documentation requirement to demonstrate that compliance.
In light of the above, it seems the Georgia law is poorly though out and constitutes an undue burden to transient boaters engaged in lawful navigation on Georgia Public Trust estuarine waters.
With regard to the new permitting process:
The Official Code of Georgia must acknowledge that there is a difference between the rights of 1) a boat anchored while engaged in navigation, such as ours, and 2) a boat that is in what amounts to long-term storage upon the Public Trust waters of the state while attached to an anchor or mooring ball. Neither current Georgia Statute nor HB201 appear to me to recognize this important distinction. Boats engaged in navigation are not at risk of becoming derelict. It is boats in long term storage at anchor, or on a mooring ball, that are at risk of becoming derelict.
It appears to me that Georgia statute does not define “Derelict” and does not provide objective criteria for 1) declaring a boat to be at risk of becoming derelict or 2) of actually being in a derelict condition. This is an oversight (flaw) of Georgia statute. I respectfully suggest a review of Florida Statute 327.4017. The Florida definition of “At Risk” boats is at this time well thought out and does not adversely affect boats lawfully being used in navigation.
Local Law Enforcement Officers who patrol Georgia estuarine Public Trust waters on a regular basis are well aware of stored boats that are either derelict or at risk of becoming derelict. Absent specific superseding legislation, local nuisance laws can be used by local municipal authorities having jurisdiction to seize and remove derelict boats and to cite owners of at risk boats to require corrective action within a specified period of time in the same way that abandoned cars can be removed from public highways.
In consideration of the jurisdiction of the Federal Clean Waters Act of 1972, the sanitation provisions of HB201 appear to be unnecessary in whole.
I am completely opposed to permitting fees for transient boats lawfully engaged in navigation, of which anchoring is a lawful part. Additionally, I believe there are federal court precedents that identify such license imposts as unconstitutional. For the short term (no more than 60 days) for boats in navigation (boats in transit through the State of Georgia), there should be no anchoring fees (license imposts) and no permit requirements.
I am not opposed to a permit requirement and substantial fees for boats that are long-term stored by anchoring upon Georgia Public Trust waters. It is these long term stored boats that create the risk of becoming derelict, and it should fall to the owners of long term stored boats to fund corrective action and cleanup. These storage fees could attach to any boat anchored in the same place on Public Trust waters for an extended period of time; ex: anchored in one place for 60 days or longer. I would also suggest, in any case, it is incumbent on local law enforcement officials and municipal authorities having jurisdiction to take interventional action before a boat in their jurisdiction becomes derelict in the first place.
Very truly Yours,
l/s: James B. Healy
cc: Amy Thurman, GAMBA
Peg and Jim Healy aboard Sanctuary, currently at Annapolis, MD.
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