This letter originally appeared in the Waterway Guide. Reprinted with permission.
Remember when you were in school and a few kids did something wrong and the whole class got punished? If so, then welcome to legislation—Georgia style. Georgia is now home to the most restrictive boater legislation in the nation. This past week the Coastal Resources Division (CRD) of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) posted the announcement of the implementation of HB201 on their website. You may recall this is the bill I warned Liberty and Bryan County residents about last summer. A hodgepodge of disjointed topics, the bill included anchoring permits, logs of pump-outs, fees and the establishment of anchorage areas. Did you catch that folks? Not just authorization to tell you where you CAN’T anchor but where you CAN anchor. The announcement this week (via Administrative Order from DNR Commissioner Mark Williams) graciously informs the public that “The Commissioner hereby ORDERS that anchorage areas for the purpose of overnight anchoring are established throughout all the estuarine areas the state…”. In other words, a right we have enjoyed for centuries in waters most boaters and boating organizations believe to be federally controlled (see the commerce clause of the US Constitution) has been granted to us by the DNR. This should be challenged in a court of law.
If you go onto the DNR website they will tell you “HB201 is a new law that mainly affects waste discharge from vessels with marine sanitation devices (MSDs) and overnight anchoring in coastal waters”. Folks, this is disingenuous at best. HB201 was NEVER about concern over the cleanliness of Georgia’s waters. It was about getting rid of a couple of nuisance boats in the coastal Georgia area to make a couple of powerful people happy. It was their scenery that was getting polluted—not the water. To fix their problem, Representative Don Hogan (Brunswick, GA) with the help of others crafted HB201 at the urging of DNR. Why? Because DNR needed a way to make these 2 complaints go away and establishing setbacks under the guise of clean water was deemed the answer. The hen has now come to roost in the form of this new DNR Administrative Order which outlines the following:
ONE. It restricts overnight anchoring within 1,000 feet (that’s over 3 football fields) of any structure, such as public and private docks, wharves, bridges, piers and pilings, except in areas near marinas. This 1,000’ offset needlessly eliminates anchorages all over the state. It will affect numerous boaters many of which transit Georgia waters as part of the annual migration along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) that brings in millions of dollars to Georgia businesses. Additionally, an unintended consequence of this ill-conceived legislation is that it gives private landowners jurisdiction over public waters free of charge with no need for a bottom lease from the state. Essentially waterfront owners now control thousands of acres of public water at no cost. I seriously question the legality of this action and challenge any attorney reading this to take action.
TWO. Commissioner Mark Williams and the DNR have created an animal known as Marina Zones, which wasn’t even in HB201. These will allow boaters to anchor as close as 300 feet to marinas or facilities that provide fuel, dinghy access, provisions, vessel maintenance or other services, regardless of whether other structures exist nearby. This, of course, begs the question, if we can anchor 300’ from a marina, where there are numerous comings and goings, why are we prohibited from anchoring 300’ from any other structure where there may be no or very limited activity? It makes zero sense but then it doesn’t have to as long as it makes the two waterfront owners happy. It would seem the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.
Many boating groups to include the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), Boat US, Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA), Marine Trawler Owners Association (MTOA), American Great Loopers Cruising Association (AGLCA), and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association (AIWA) were never consulted before the legislation was passed. Most importantly, the general boating public was unaware of the bill until it had already passed. A public hearing occurred on June 17, 2019, in Brunswick where we voiced our concerns and were assured no rules would be implemented until they were vetted with the boating public. Afterward, at a July 31, 2019 “Stakeholders’ Meeting,” which I and several boating representatives attended, we collectively recommended 150’ setbacks from marinas and private structures. Personnel at DNR were informed that a 1,000’ setback was far too large yet that has now been implemented. So much for transparency and open dialogue with the public.
The General Assembly didn’t just take away the freedoms of Georgians, they also took away the freedoms of every American transiting our waters from other states. DNR never had any intention of engaging any of the end-users–Georgia boaters and visiting boaters to the coastline of Georgia. Actions speak much louder than words.
So, what can we do? I invite the citizens of coastal Georgia to join me in writing and calling both the Governor’s office as well as the Commissioner of DNR.
Governor Brian Kemp 206 Washington Street Suite 203, State Capitol Atlanta, GA 30334
Phone Number: 404-656-2846 Toll Free: 1-800-436-7442
Contact via web form: https://gov.georgia.gov/contact-us/constituent-services
Commissioner Mark Williams 2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE Suite 1252 – East Tower Atlanta, GA 30334
Phone number: 404-656-3505 Contact via web form: https://gadnr.org/sendemail
Maps of restricted anchorage areas by county can be found here: https://coastalgadnr.org/Liveaboards
If you want to keep abreast of what’s happening, join the Facebook group Save Georgia’s Anchorages at https://www.facebook.com/groups/SaveGeorgiasAnchorages/.
Jack White, boater, Liberty County resident and former GA State Representative, House District 3