Further deliberation needed on extended no-wake zone

Published 5:15 pm Friday, July 1, 2016

After much discussion regarding the possible extension of a no-wake zone on the Nottoway River just east of the General Vaughan Bridge of Smith’s Ferry Road, the Southampton County Board of Supervisors decided to defer action until more information could be gathered.

“I don’t think I’m confident enough to make a decision,” said Franklin-Hunterdale District Supervisor Barry Porter.

“I don’t have any concept of how wide the river is down there,” Capron District Supervisor Bruce Phillips added. “I might have to take up [Riverkeeper] Jeff Turner’s offer to ride on his houseboat.”

Southampton County Sheriff J.B. Stutts, speaking as a landowner along the river, voiced his concerns during the public hearing regarding the safety of boats passing through and the erosion they cause.

“In this gap, there’s a blind bend of the river. It’s the narrowest part of the river between Monroe and North Carolina,” he said. “A northbound vessel reaches the end of the no-wake zone and accelerates, raising the bow to the point of limited or no visibility. Southbound vessels leaving the no-wake zone are at or near cruising speeds as they round the bend. That creates a very real danger that could be reduced by eliminating this gap in the no-wake zone. I have personally observed several near accidents created by this situation.”

There are currently four separate no-wake zones on this section of the Nottoway River, starting with the public boat landing near the bridge through the former Dockside restaurant in the Nottoway Shores Subdivision. The two other zones are established in between those two, with one located near the bend in the river and the other where the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers nearly come in contact.

“My second concern is that boats accelerating and slowing in the short gap between the existing zones are pushing water and causing extensive erosion that can be seen as it occurs,” Stutts said.

“The wash created by boats hits the shoreline and an obvious color change occurs in the water. That is soil erosion. Multiply it by hundreds of thousands of times, it is substantial.”

The supervisors were considering an ordinance that would incorporate the gap between the middle zones.

The new no-wake zone would stretch more than 3,650 feet and would add roughly two minutes, Stutts said, to travel time for boaters idling through.

Ronald West, vice chairman of the supervisors, said Stutts places them in a “real awkward position” because of his job title.

He reassured the board that no extra enforcement of the river would take place, however.

“We have had a boat out four times during the boating season, but we would not increase enforcement in the area,” Stutts said, noting that the sheriff’s office owns one seized and one donated boat.

If the ordinance to amend Section 10-36 of the Southampton County Code is ultimately approved, any person convicted of a no-wake violation would be subject to a fine of no more than $50.

“A no-wake zone is policing the traffic and the speed on the river,” said Smith’s Ferry Road resident Gary Cross.

“If you buy on the river or build on the river, you best have enough in your budget to put up a berm or bulkhead. There’s no way to stop boat traffic on the river. The Indians did it with canoes, and it’s got bigger ever since.”

The board has up to 60 days before it must take action on the proposed ordinance, and asked that any citizen with information that could assist in making a decision contact county administrator Mike Johnson at 653-3015.