A no-wake zone petition for a portion of Banks Channel has been circling since October 2013 and is scheduled to come before the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen Wednesday, March 19.
Resident Jerry Cook, who lives on Banks Channel and has owned a Wrightsville Beach home since 1985, said he started the petition, which now has more than 400 signatures, for purely safety reasons.
“With the anchorages and all of the small stuff on the water like paddleboards, the use of the water has changed a lot and the mix has gotten really dangerous,” said Cook, who splits his time living in Wrightsville Beach and Raleigh.
The petition cites the large increase in the number of swimmers, paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, sailboats and powerboat traffic.
“A long time ago it used to be real small boats and 30 horsepower motors and everything was slow and not many people used the water itself,” Cook said.
The petition for a no-wake zone or a 5 mph zone runs from the Causeway Bridge to green marker No. G13, south of the intersection of Motts Channel and the Carolina Yacht Club.
While all of the petition signers use the water, they are not all Wrightsville Beach residents.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission defines a no-wake zone as “an area within which vessels are required to travel at idling speed — slow speed that creates no appreciable wake.”
The commission accepts no-wake zone applications from the local government with territorial jurisdiction over the water, whether it is a county or municipality. The local government must first hold a public hearing for the no-wake zone proposal.
Captain Brent Futch, who is a lifelong Wrightsville Beach resident and has traveled along the U.S. coast from Maine to the Gulf Coast for work, said he witnesses a close call in Banks Channel every other day, or a close-quarters situation in maritime speak.
“I don’t think I can recollect anywhere that I’ve seen that type of scenario that was not some type of regulated speed zone,” Futch said, listing paddleboarders, swimmers and Carolina Yacht Club sailors as those using the water in addition to the larger boats. “It’s pretty amazing that it’s like that, because it’s just an accident waiting to happen.”
Former alderman Dr. Bill Sisson said it makes sense to do something about Banks Channel, just like it was time to declare Lees Cut and Motts Channel no-wake zones.
“If the board of aldermen approves it, then we can certainly get the area legislators to get behind it, and I would say that that would go a long way toward assuring approval at the level of Wildlife Resources Commission,” Sisson said.
He said he signed the petition for several reasons, including personal observation and potential danger to boats and people in other vessels.
Some opposing viewpoints could come from people who do not want to see any regulations, Sisson said.
“The problem that we’ve always had with any type of situation like this, because I was the one who introduced the Jet Ski ordinance to the county commission back in the 90s, has been the idea, ‘Well, we haven’t had a tragedy yet, so it’s not an issue,’” he said. “Well, do you really want to wait until somebody dies before you wake up and smell the coffee? That just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The BOA approved a nearby ordinance in August 2012 for no-wake speed of Jet Ski operators under the Causeway and Salisbury Street bridges due to infrastructure damage beneath the bridge.
A request from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for the number of reported accidents within the petition area was not returned as of press time.
“To me, just safety has got to be No. 1,” Cook said. “I want to make it safe for all of the people on the water. Five years ago this probably would not have been possible, but now people’s attitudes have changed.”