Throughout the history of the movement to pass a smoking
ban on Wrightsville’s beach strand, and following its passage in a referendum vote last November, one of the looming questions for the town has been the exact confines of the enforceable area.
Although the referendum applied strictly to the beach strand, parcels of the strand that are the property of the state of North Carolina have caused confusion as to how the town would be able to enforce a local ordinance on state property.
One particular area in question is the area of the beach strand south of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort to the middle of the island, where a large majority of the recent beach renourishment projects have taken place, said town attorney John Wessel.
“Since 1985, where the beach is renourished using public money and the beach is pumped up above where the existing high water mark was previously, state statute says that the property is owned by the state of North Carolina,” Wessel said. “There is a question whether that statute takes precedence or does the 1939 [property line act] take precedence. We don’t have any court decisions on that, we have an attorney general’s opinion that says the state law takes precedence but that is where the confusion is and that is what we are trying to clear up.”
Because of hazy issues like this one, Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti and Wessell drafted a resolution requesting Representative Ted Davis Jr. (R-New Hanover District 19) to introduce a bill to the General Assembly. The resolution was passed by a unanimous vote of the town’s board of aldermen at its Jan. 17 meeting, and by Carolina and Kure beach town councils at their January meetings. If Davis’ bill passes, Cignotti said it would give the town authority to enforce its ordinances between the high and low water marks on the beach strand and on state owned property.
Davis said this issue was something he had been aware of and wanted to have resolved when he was on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.
“We had really discussed this early on when I was on the county commission. I asked for a meeting with Carolina Beach and Kure Beach … and the issue came up like it did when we met with Wrightsville,” Davis said. “We really need to get this jurisdictional issue resolved and I wanted to before the fact … and then Wrightsville Beach passed an ordinance and they found out what I had talked about.”
Before he would accept a resolution from the town of Wrightsville Beach, Davis requested that both Carolina and Kure beaches also pass similar resolutions to increase the chances of the bill passing.
“Quite frankly that is why I wanted the resolutions, because my feeling would be if I am asking for local legislation for three beach communities and all the beach communities passed resolutions from their governing bodies asking it to be done, I would have a hard time believing why not,” he said. “Now if it was statewide, that would be a horse of a different color.”
Even though the General Assembly’s next session began Wednesday, Jan. 30, Davis said it could be quite a while before the bill passes both the state House and Senate. After submitting it to the bill drafting office for review and finalization, the bill would have to go through a first reading in the House, committee approval, two more readings in the House, and finally, if passed, through a similar process in the Senate.
“That is one of the biggest things that I have seen that is different … (than) what I did for 16 years on the board of commissioners … instead of only needing two votes to put it on the agenda to be done in a very short period of time, I have to get 60 votes in the House and then you have to turn it over to the Senate,” he said. “There is no way to tell you, with any degree of certainty, how long it would take to go through the Senate after it passes the House.”
After working to have the bill passed in the House, Davis said he would be working with Senator Thom Goolsby (R-New Hanover District 9) to pass it in the Senate.
Meanwhile, Wrightsville plans to focus its efforts on smoking ban education until the summer then start enforcing on town property until the Davis bill passes. If Davis’ bill does not pass before the summer season, Cignotti said the town would still be able to enforce the ban in the areas it is confident about the jurisdiction.