No-wake zone

Published 9:34 am Monday, November 27, 2017

WINTON – It was called by one of its former owners “the most beautiful place on earth”.

For years, the Chowan River area of Tuscarora Beach served as a place of recreation in boating, swimming, and fishing; and, of commerce with the operation of the former Riverside Restaurant, until its untimely demise in a fire four years ago.

Now, following a review by the NC Wildlife Commission on water safety rules, Hertford County Commissioners at their November meeting were tasked with deciding whether to repeal the no-wake zone rule for Tuscarora Beach.

A ‘no-wake zone’ is an area where boats are required to travel at a slow idling speed that creates no wake, or excessive wave movement. These areas must display regulatory signs or buoys that mark it as a no-wake zone in order to be enforced.

A no-wake zone has existed at Tuscarora Beach since 2006. Mainly, it was established because of the high level of boating traffic and swimming that took place around the restaurant and boat dock. According to the NC Administrative Code, they believe the zone extends more than 150 yards out into the river, to the county line. The No-Wake Zone Coordinator for the state Wildlife Commission also wondered if it was necessary to keep the zone at such a length.

“Since the restaurant is no longer in operation and boating traffic in the area has lessened considerably, we have been contacted (by the NC Wildlife Commission) as to if the no-wake rule is still necessary,” said Hertford County Manager Loria Williams.

The county sought input from property owners in the area and of the 17 who owned riverfront parcels; five requested that the county keep the no-wake rule in place.

“I understand that to keep the rule we would have to place markers, and markers currently are no longer there,” Williams added. “We would have to incur some expense to mark it properly, and it takes considerable time to get a no-wake zone approved. It’s up to you to decide whether to continue to approve the rule.”

Commission chair Ronald Gatling said his first concern was safety.

“It’s like a speed zone,” Williams explain.

“The buoys warn boaters there is a speed-limit around that residential area. There was more activity and children swimming in the cove when the restaurant was opened. That activity has now lessened, and that’s why the state is posing this question.”

Williams said based on what the county spent on markers 11 years ago, the cost is estimated to be between $500 and $1,000.

Commissioner Johnnie Ray Farmer noted the restaurant’s demise and said when it was in operation patrons would come from other towns along the river and make use of the boat slip and dock.

“I’m sure whomever owns that property, if they ever sold it, there’s a process they must go through, including with county emergency management,” Farmer said. “Based on the information I’ve gathered from the residents, I would recommend we table this until EMS and NC Wildlife get together and do more investigation, and we know more about who is responsible for the cost.”

Farmer said he’d been told several buoys had broken from their moorings due to storms and were now floating some distance from their original location. He also said most property owners indicate they would favor change.

“Less than half the owners really want to keep it,” he noted.

Commissioner Curtis Freeman echoed the call for more study as well as citing safety concerns.

“Just because the restaurant’s no longer there, are we going to open it up now to be a speedway for people to fly up and down the river,” he asked. “I believe we should err on the side of safety, regardless.”

Williams said the state had set a deadline of Dec. 5, and that time was extremely close to the Commissioners’ next meeting date (Dec. 4), so Chairman Gatling called for a motion and a vote.

Discussion continued with Commissioner Bill Mitchell putting forth a motion to retain the no-wake zone.

Commissioner John Horton said the 150-yard extension from shore was not really a ‘speed bump’, but rather a reserve area.

“If we keep it, we need to look at whether we need to keep it at 150 yards,” Horton acknowledged. “That (distance) is about half the river.”

Gatling said the county had paid some $2,000 for canoe trail markers placed in the river earlier.

“We’re promoting this, and the no-wake would be beneficial (for the canoe trail),” Gatling explained.

Hertford County attorney Charles Revelle suggested retaining the zone as indicated, but that both EMS Director Chris Smith and Wildlife Officer Tim Wadsworth conduct a closer review.

“We could indicate to the Wildlife Commission that we do wish to keep the zone until further investigation,” Revelle said. “That’ll keep from moving it until we know more.”

With no further discussion, Freeman then seconded Mitchell’s original motion to retain the no-wake zone and the Board approved it unanimously.