The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hearing to address public concerns was held on June 17, to a packed house in Brunswick, Ga. As you may recall from (the June 12 Courier), I reported that HB201 authorizes DNR to establish rules and a fee system for anchoring in Georgia’s coastal waters. If one message was made clear it was that both sides on any issue must be fully vetted for effective and reasonable legislation to be passed. HB201 was not. Even the bill’s sponsor, Representative Don Hogan (R-Brunswick) in closing remarks stated “I should have gotten the boating public’s input before filing this bill.”
Thankfully, many of the major boating organizations were at the meeting, including the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), Boat US, Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA), American Great Loopers Cruising Association (AGLCA), as well as a representative from the publication Waterway Guide. Most importantly, the general boating public was there in force to weigh in on the promulgation of the numerous rules that DNR is considering.
The meeting began with a welcome by DNR Coastal Resources Division Director Doug Haymans. Mr. Haymans presented a PowerPoint slide briefing which outlined both the legislation and the proposed rules DNR was considering. Following this, each organization or individual who wished to speak was allowed to do so for three minutes. Without exception the greatest opposition raised was the establishment of the anchoring permit on transient boaters as well as Georgia citizens. 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 30-day period, or $240 yearly.
So why would the DNR lobby the legislature for authorization to issue anchor permits? The stated reason is to rid Georgia waters of derelict vessels. According to Doug Haymans, “Georgia has approximately 130 sunken derelict vessels in her waters, more than half of which are commercial vessels.” Many of the speakers at the meeting took exception to the claim that derelict vessels were a problem, however, this author has seen derelict vessels in our waters and supports the DNR initiative to get rid of them.
The devil is in the details, namely--how to fund it. An anchoring permit fee is not the solution. Both the author and others encouraged DNR to not implement anchoring fees as it will drive away business dollars from the 13,000 transient boaters traveling south and north up the ICW each year. Furthermore, we made it clear to DNR that HB201 “authorizes” the department to establish anchorages and fees, it doesn’t DIRECT as per the DNR interpretation. Not only did we encourage restraint on their new authority, several individuals and groups requested DNR to hold a second public hearing. Whether they will or not remains to be seen.
So, if a Derelict Vessel Fund (DVF) is the objective, how do we fund it? In researching this article, I used as reference the March 2017 GAO report entitled “Maritime Environment, Federal and State Actions, Expenditures, and Challenges to Addressing Abandoned and Derelict Vessels (ADV).” That report clearly shows that Georgia has only obtained funds for ADV activities from private and other sources. I suggest the DNR in concert with our legislative delegation in the Senate and House consider the following funding source options: Federal grants, bond issuance and pursuing legislative line item appropriations from the General Fund. Furthermore, they should research the initiation of a small vessel registration fee similar to what has been done in numerous states with hunting licenses to help support wildlife conservation. Such a fee would spread the burden of ADV over a broader spectrum of boaters (not just those at anchor) since all boaters benefit. The burden would fall on Georgians who should be handling the cleanup (if required) rather than transients who are already paying taxes and fees in their own home states and bring business to Georgia via the purchase of goods and services. Lastly, such a fee would most likely raise a greater amount of money and avoid the negative PR ramifications the current proposal has drawn.
Additionally, that same GAO study from 2017 revealed only six of 28 states responding indicated their ADV programs included a vessel turn-in program. Does GA have such a program? If not, we should explore this as well to address the problem before a vessel becomes derelict.
While we were thankful to have Bryan County State Representative Ron Stephens join us in raising these concerns with DNR, I remain disappointed with Liberty County State Representative Al Williams. A co-sponsor of this legislation (HB201), Representative Williams has ignored this Liberty County resident’s requests to meet with him or speak on the phone concerning this bill. I invited him via email to be a part of this public hearing in Brunswick on his bill in the hopes we could work together on a solution acceptable to all concerned. He was a no-show for Georgia residents. As a former State Representative, I am shocked at this behavior by an elected official toward constituents.
The battle however is not over and we need your help. DNR needs to hear from you—the citizens of Liberty County. Written public comment will be received through Monday, July 15. Comments should be legible, concise and limited to the proposed rule change. Following the comment period, the Board of Natural Resources will consider the proposed rule on August 27, at 9 a.m. at its Board Room located at 2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, SE, Suite 1252, Atlanta, Georgia.
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/. You’ll find a video stream of the meeting with DNR on the page.
Boater, Liberty County
resident and former
Georgia State Rep., House District 3