Rep. Jeter pledges to reestablish lake commission

By Carrie C. Causey

MOUNTAIN ISLAND – Consequences of the lake’s marine commission being dismantled earlier this summer have raised concern for residents.
During an Aug. 27 town hall meeting led by N.C. Rep. Charles Jeter, residents reported safety and speed woes stemming from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission removing buoys denoting No Wake Zones in Mountain Island Lake that were previously approved by the now-defunct Mountain Island Lake Marine Commission. The result, Overlook Homeowners Association President Tom Blomquist said, is fast boaters and “hot-dogging Jet Skiers” coming into residential coves that were once quiet and safe for swimmers, kayakers and paddleboarders.
The Mountain Island Lake Marine Commission was an advocacy group established in October 1997 and comprised of representatives from Gaston, Lincoln and Mecklenburg counties, which all have jurisdiction on the lake. Its aim was to make regulations that apply to Mountain Island Lake and its shoreline.
Last December, Gaston County representatives announced they would no longer fund the group and wanted out. Because state law says all counties with shoreline must be represented in the commission, their decision closed the agency all together, giving authority solely to the state agency.
“If re-elected, in 2015 the second bill that I plan to file is to reinstate the Mountain Island Marine Commission,” Jeter promised the nearly dozen attendees.
The first bill is for changes for better redistricting, but after that it’s his next priority.
Jeter said he attempted to get the bill in the legislative short session, but couldn’t get the unanimous local support required by law. He said now, he shouldn’t have a problem getting it passed if he submits it in the long session where the unanimous support isn’t needed.
Having the law written so one entity can close the whole thing is detrimental, Jeter said after the meeting.
His proposed bill would reestablish the commission, taking away that kind of authority for one group to have that kind of veto power. He said all counties would have to help fund the commission, but decide on their own whether they want representation. Jeter said he plans to have discussions with all parties involved and that his bill would only apply to this commission as each follows separate rules.
Cathy Roche, who served on the commission for four years including two as chair, said it’s important each lake have its own commission rather than rely on the state.
“It was a local voice for the lake,” she said. “It had people who know what’s going on and what’s needed.”
‘The wonderful thing about our lake is that it’s mixed-use, with kids kayaking, paddle boats, swimmers and boats,” she added. “The lake is safe as long as people acknowledge the main channel is better for faster boats with skiers. It’s common sense to have no wake in those areas.”
To protect the lake-goers, the Mountain Island Lake Marine Commission worked a lot with designating No Wake Zone areas. A person would petition the commission, they’d have public hearings with people from both sides and then vote to approve it, before filing it for approval with the counties and N.C. Wildlife, Roche said.
“Once we filed, it was generally accepted by the counties,” she said. “The hang-up was getting it approved with N.C. Wildlife. If they didn’t like it, they didn’t enforce it. There were some places the N.C. Wildlife wouldn’t enforce it, but Gaston and Mecklenburg county officers would. Eventually, we gave up.”
After notifying the state that the commission was disbanding, the commission relinquished control over the no wake zones to N.C. Wildlife in February, Roche said. The buoys were taken down within days.
Former No Wake Zone Coordinator for N.C. Wildlife Betsy Haywood, who was in charge during the start of discussions about the commission’s demise, said some of the places the Mountain Island Lake Marine Commission instituted no wake zones didn’t meet the state standards for the designation, which use it to mitigate lake hazards.
She agreed that they didn’t enforce those areas under the local marine commission’s authority and when it dissolved, removed the ones they didn’t feel qualified. She said public hearings were held about the topic, but her position had already been turned over to someone else.
“An individual county or jurisdiction can apply for them and we can reassess them,” Haywood said. “We just didn’t have those areas as a rule on our books, so we had to take them out because they weren’t legal in our viewpoint.”

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