Betrayal of the Public Trust by Jack White
Thanks for your patience, everyone, as we continue to gather information about the new rules on anchoring in Georgia.
Below is an op-ed written by one of our coalition partners, Jack White. Jack is a former Georgia state legislator and I think his explanation/summation of what has happened is spot on. Following Jack’s op-ed is a bit more of my take on the topic.
Betrayal of the public trust
Remember when you were in school and a few kids did something wrong and the whole class got punished? If so, then welcome to legislation—Georgia style! Georgia is now home to the most restrictive boater legislation in the nation. This past week the Coastal Resources Division (CRD) of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) posted the announcement of the implementation of HB201 on their website. You may recall this is the bill I warned Liberty and Bryan County residents about last summer. A hodgepodge of disjointed topics, the bill included anchoring permits, logs of pump-outs, fees and the establishment of anchorage areas. Did you catch that folks? Not just authorization to tell you where you CAN’T anchor but where you CAN anchor. The announcement this week (via Administrative Order from DNR Commissioner Mark Williams) graciously informs the public that “The Commissioner hereby ORDERS that anchorage areas for the purpose of overnight anchoring are established throughout all the estuarine areas the state…”. In other words, a right we have enjoyed for centuries in waters most boaters and boating organizations believe to be federally controlled (see the commerce clause of the US Constitution) has been granted to us by the DNR. This should be challenged in a court of law.
If you go onto the DNR website they will tell you “HB201 is a new law that mainly affects waste discharge from vessels with marine sanitation devices (MSDs) and overnight anchoring in coastal waters”. Folks, this is disingenuous at best. HB201 was NEVER about a concern over the cleanliness of Georgia’s waters. It was about getting rid of a couple of nuisance boats in the coastal Georgia area to make a couple of powerful people happy. It was their scenery that was getting polluted—not the water. To fix their problem, Representative Don Hogan (Brunswick, Ga) with the help of others crafted HB201 at the urging of DNR. Why? Because DNR needed a way to make these 2 complaints go away and establishing setbacks under the guise of clean water was deemed the answer. The hen has now come to roost in the form of this new DNR Administrative Order which outlines the following:
ONE. It restricts overnight anchoring within 1,000 feet (that’s over 3 football fields) of any structure, such as public and private docks, wharfs, bridges, piers and pilings, except in areas near marinas. This 1,000’ offset needlessly eliminates anchorages all over the state. It will affect numerous boaters many of which transit Georgia waters as part of the annual migration along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) that brings in millions of dollars to Georgia businesses. Additionally, an unintended consequence of this ill-conceived legislation is that it gives private landowners jurisdiction over public waters free of charge with no need for a bottom lease from the state. Essentially waterfront owners now control thousands of acres of public water at no cost. I seriously question the legality of this action and challenge any attorney reading this to take action.
TWO. Commissioner Mark Williams and the DNR have created an animal known as Marina Zones, which wasn’t even in HB201. These will allow boaters to anchor as close as 300 feet to marinas or facilities that provide fuel, dinghy access, provisions, vessel maintenance or other services, regardless of whether other structures exist nearby. This of course begs the question, if we can anchor 300’ from a marina, where there are numerous comings and goings, why are we prohibited from anchoring 300’ from any other structure where there may be no or very limited activity? It makes zero sense but then it doesn’t have to as long as it makes the two waterfront owners happy. It would seem the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.
Many boating groups to include the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), Boat US, Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA), Marine Trawler Owners Association (MTOA), American Great Loopers Cruising Association (AGLCA), and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association (AIWA) were never consulted before the legislation was passed. Most importantly, the general boating public was unaware of the bill until it had already passed. A public hearing occurred on June 17 in Brunswick where we voiced our concerns and were assured no rules would be implemented until they were vetted with the boating public. Afterwards, at a July 31st Stakeholders’ Meeting, which I and several boating representatives attended, we collectively recommended 150’ setbacks from marinas and private structures. Personnel at DNR were informed that a 1,000’ setback was far too large yet that has now been implemented. So much for transparency and open dialogue with the public.
The General Assembly didn’t just take away the freedoms of Georgians, they also took away the freedoms of every American transiting our waters from other states. DNR never had any intention of engaging any of the end users–Georgia boaters and visiting boaters to the coastline of Georgia. Actions speak much louder than words.
So, what can we do? I invite the citizens of coastal Georgia to join me in writing and calling both the Governor’s office as well as the Commissioner of DNR.
Governor Brian Kemp
206 Washington Street
Suite 203, State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334
Phone Number: 404-656-2846
Toll Free: 1-800-436-7442
Contact via web form: https://gov.georgia.gov/contact-us/constituent-services
Commissioner Mark Williams
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE
Suite 1252 – East Tower
Atlanta, GA 30334
Phone number: 404-656-3505
Contact via web form: https://gadnr.org/sendemail
Maps of restricted anchorage areas by county can be found here:
Boater, Liberty County resident & former Ga State Representative, House District 3
As Jack eloquently shared, stakeholders (including AGLCA) were invited by DNR to a meeting because they said they wanted our feedback as they crafted the implementation rules associated with HB201. It was my understanding leaving that meeting, and from subsequent phone contact, that we’d be kept informed of progress and given the chance to preview the new rules before implementation to provide comment. We were blindsided by the order two days before it took effect.
Our coalition has been making calls and gathering information, and has not found a group that suggested 1,000-feet as a setback. There seems to be no explanation as to how that distance was selected. It appears that even marinas, who some think have the most to gain when boats cannot anchor overnight, appear to have suggested a setback far less than 1,000-feet. And even Florida, where there are constant challenges to the right to anchor, has setbacks of only 150-feet.
There is some good news. First, the wheels are in motion for a potential legislative change that we hope will undo the problems inherent in HB201. We will provide more details on this as soon as we are able. Second, groups much bigger than ours, with a lot more clout, are just as outraged as we are. We hope to make more details about their efforts available soon as well.
In the meantime, Jack’s suggestion of letter-writing to Commission Williams and Governor Kemp (see address information above) is our next course of action. Please take the time to write. Remember to be respectful, specific, and concise about how this administrative order will affect you. For your convenience, the order is available here.
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.
America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association
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