Shocked, shocked I tell you! That’s not just a quote from the movie classic, Casablanca, folks. Many Georgians were shocked this past week to learn that Governor Kemp signed HB201, which authorizes the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish rules and a fee system for anchoring in Georgia’s coastal waters.
That’s right. If you want to anchor overnight in your own state waters, you’ll soon need to purchase a permit to enjoy the privilege.
This bill was ill-conceived from the start. Legislators only heard from DNR and the Georgia Marine Business Association (GAMBA). Sadly, the sponsors of this legislation did not consult with any of the major boating organizations, including the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), Boat US, Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA), Marine Trawler Owners Association (MTOA), American Great Loopers Cruising Association (AGLCA), or the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association (AIWA). Most importantly, the general boating public was unaware of the bill until it had already passed.
Lastly, there were no studies to back up any of the claims made, as admitted by GAMBA. Their goal was to secure a Derelict Vessels Fund supported by anchoring fees. When the bill made it to the House floor an amendment was filed that killed the fund and now anchoring fees will go into that black hole known as the general fund. Translation—just another tax.
So, what’s in the bill? The state, via the DNR will now establish anchorage areas and boaters will not be allowed to anchor in any unapproved areas after January 1, 2020. Basically, the Georgia legislature is denying free use of public trust lands to the public.
DNR will now be able to tell you where you can and can’t anchor (in your state registered boat) and charge you a fee for the privilege.
No permit? You can bet there will be a fine as well. The proposed new rules state that anyone anchoring in Georgia coastal waters will be required to purchase a permit at a cost of $5 per night, $20 for a seven-day period, $40 for a thirty-day period, or $240 yearly.
How do you get a permit? Anchorage permits will be available at sites that sell hunting and fishing licenses, by phone or online. Permits can be printed or electronically available (i.e. on your cell phone, tablet, etc.) but must be on the vessel and available for inspection by DNR Fish and Wildlife officers. If the vessel is unoccupied, the permit must be displayed and visible from the water. So much for electronically available.
Are there unintended consequences with this legislation? You better believe it. The first one is enforcement. Georgia has a lot of small creeks and waterways. Clearly, it will be impossible for DNR to police all of these, at least not without significant cost and additional manpower. That could be solved of course by increasing the anchoring fees next session.
Then there is the unintended consequence of the impact on local businesses. With approximately 13,000 boats traveling south through Georgia to the islands each year, the economic impact of this group on the marine industry is significant. These transient boaters buy fuel, groceries, eat at our restaurants and use many other services. This anchoring charge will make them elect to bypass Georgia entirely and spend their dollars in other communities.
I don’t blame them for that. I’ve already seen numerous examples on social media of plans to pass Georgia by. They are angry, as are Georgia residents who’ve discovered too late what occurred in the dark of night.
Finally, the last unintended consequence is environmental. Prior to this legislation Georgia law prohibited long term liveaboards in our waterways. Now it will be legal for an individual to live at anchor 24/7 all year long. I can easily envision a lot of raw sewage in Georgia waters as a result.
So, what can we do? I invite the citizens of Liberty County to join me at a meeting June 17 in Brunswick, GA at the Coastal Resources Division (CRD) headquarters. The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p. m. and public comment may be submitted by email or letter until July 15.
On August 27 CRD will present the first draft of the rules to the Coastal Committee of the DNR, and by December 1 the amended rules will be filed with the Secretary of State.
I have also invited State Representative Al Williams of Liberty County to join us in working with DNR on a reasonable compromise. He was a co-sponsor of this legislation and as of this writing has refused to respond.
You can contact CRD with your concerns via mail or email to: Kelly Hill, Coastal Resources Division, One Conservation Way, Brunswick, GA 31520. Kelly.Hill@dnr.ga.gov
If you want to keep abreast of what’s happening, join the Facebook group, Save Georgia’s Anchorages, at https://www.facebook.com/groups/SaveGeorgiasAnchorages/.
The legislature has opened Pandora’s Box. My hope is that the citizens of Georgia can close it once again.
Boater, Liberty County Resident and former
Georgia State Representative, House District 3