Task force: allow no-wake zones to remain

Published 10:46 am Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Leaving the existing no-wake zones on the Nottoway River to stay in place is the first recommendation of the task force appointed to study the matter, according to spokesman Doug Williams. He made the report to the Southampton County supervisors at their meeting on Jan. 23.

This past July, the topic came up again before the board, with members such as Barry Porter who said he’s gotten calls from constituents saying they’d be adversely affected by any more such restrictions on waterway recreation and traffic. Vice chairman Ronnie West said that safety, not erosion, was the major issue, and it was he who had suggested the board find residents willing to study the matter and presenting their research to the board. Those eventually appointed in August were Wayne Barnes, Jerry Bradshaw, Hunter Darden, Keith Davis and Williams.

At the recent meeting, county administrator Mike Johnson noted that state code 29.1-744 allows localities such as Southampton County to establish no-wake zones. Those are where engine-powered boats or personal watercraft must reduce speeds to prevent resulting waves from adversely affecting other crafts, individuals in the water or causing erosion damage to property. Buoys and markers can be established to designated those areas.

County code Section 10-36 deals with this matter, and Johnson noted that since 1986 there have been seven no-wake zones created. The most recent was in 2006 at Sycamore Bend near Checkerboard Corner, which is the northernmost point; southernmost is at Battle Beach, not far from the North Carolina border.

“It’s been a tough issue for years,” said Williams, who then outlined the following:

• As of June 2016, all operators of personal watercraft such as jet skis and Sea Doos, Wave Runners and operators of motorboats with a 10 horsepower or greater motor must complete a boater safety course.

• All operators of PWCS or motorboats are required to maintain a safe speed, keep a lookout for other vessels and practice good seamanship by maintaining a safe distance from other watercraft;

• It is already unlawful to operate any motorboat greater than wake speed when within 50 feet or less of docks, piers, boathouses, boat ramps and people in the water.

“We think the law is adequate,” he continued, and then added the second recommendation, which is to consider reducing the length of the existing no-wake zone near Checkerboard Corner to improve travel times while continuing to project property belonging to the family of Robert Edwards.

The recommended policy for the future is that people wanting to make applications to place or remove no-wake buoys or other markers will apply to the board of supervisors; applicants must also shoulder the cost, which is close to $1,000.

Other recommendations are that new no-wake zones could be at:

• public boat landings

• areas where there’s a clear threat to safety

• areas where there’s demonstrated excessive erosion caused by PWCs or motorboats.

“Now you’ve got something to work with,” said Williams.

The supervisors asked that if they follow the task force’s recommendations and shorten the zone near the Edwards’ property, would the board be responsible? Who’s going to maintain the old zones now?

Williams replied that any any removal or upkeep falls on the county, but new ones on the  individual.

The cost of the buoys was brought up, and Johnson said that they cost only in the hundreds of dollars.

He said that to shorten a zone, it must be done by ordinance and a public hearing would be required.

The board will draft a letter to ask the family what it wants first.