Altering its preliminary 3-2 decision to prohibit surfing and swimming within 200 feet of commercial fishing piers, in the second reading of the ordinance the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen voted 4-1 to increase the length to 350 feet for surfers and keep the 200-foot restriction for swimmers. Mayor Pro Tem Bill Sisson and alderman Darryl Mills, who originally voted for the 200-foot restriction at the board’s April meeting, changed their position to join aldermen Susan Collins and Elizabeth King in voting for the new tiered restrictions.
As he did in the previous meeting, Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti deferred to Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief Frank Smith and ocean rescue director Dave Baker, who said the 200-foot restrictions for both would be the safest for everyone and the most feasible for the Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue staff to enforce.
Matt Johnson, owner and operator of Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, led the board’s Thursday, May 9, meeting in the public comment segment by calling for more separation of surfers and swimmers from the pier.
“The 200-foot restriction, which is being endorsed by ocean rescue, is too close and has caused conflict with surfers, swimmers and fishermen for more than three years,” Johnson said. “It is a bad idea and is not safe.”
After considering the subject further after his vote at the April meeting, Sisson said he believed it should be bigger to send a message to surfers who continually disregard the restrictions.
“They are just going to do what they want to, no matter what,” Sisson said. “Those people need to be controlled because they are presenting a danger, not only to themselves if they get tangled up in something but to the swimmers as well.”
In addition to wanting a larger restricted area, Sisson said he would also prefer to have the swimming restriction slightly smaller. However, Smith and Baker said the existing tiered system has caused confusion.
“The locals get it mostly … but especially in the Mercer’s Pier area we are dealing with folks from all over the place,” Smith said. “Everybody wants consistent enforcement … I really do believe that if we could agree on one distance with one marker and say ‘you stay outside of that regardless’ it would help us get to that uniform enforcement.”
In response, Collins said she would like to see separate distance to provide a stretch of beach just for swimmers after the summer surf zones end every day when lifeguards leave their stands at 5 p.m.
“I’m hearing you but I am remembering back in 2005 when the [surf zone] committee met that the mission was to have a plan worked out for surfers, swimmers and fishermen to suit all recreational activities,” Collins said. “I am concerned about the swimmers … it is not safe for me to swim where surfers are surfing.”
Town manager Tim Owens said another option for marking the boundaries would be to anchor buoys in the water in front of the no surfing poles to be placed on the beach, which he felt comfortable would work.
In Sisson’s motion he included the installation of these buoy markers at both piers and with the requirement for the board of aldermen to review how the ordinance worked after the summer season.
Another change for WBOR this summer season will come in the form of a donated Greenough Advanced Rescue Craft worth $70,000 from GARC co-creator, Dr. Peter McGuire.
“It is no accident that the first civilians in the U.S. to receive this military rescue craft are the lifeguards from Wrightsville Beach,” McGuire said. “Dave Baker and Jeremy Owens have done a remarkable job recruiting, training and motivating their underpaid and underequipped team who are now recognized among the best on the east coast.”
The GARC blends the maneuverability and speed of a Jet Ski with increased stability and passenger capacity, and is now in use with the United States Air Force Pararescue and Air National Guard, McGuire said.