For Lake Wylie boaters, or others in York County heading out to the lake, it doesn’t much matter that it’s a North Carolina issue.
The impact could be much wider.
“If they do shut us down that would probably be it, our equipment would be gone and we probably wouldn’t come back,” said officer S.W. Joye with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. “That’s the doomsday scenario, but I don’t believe that’s going to happen.”
Joye leads the lake enforcement unit for CMPD on Lake Wylie. It’s one of three county agencies, along with a federal and two state groups, patrolling its waters. The lake largely sits up against unincorporated Mecklenburg County, where the future of police service is in question.
On April 18 the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners voted to terminate an agreement with CMPD to serve its unincorporated areas. An area covering about 60,000 residents. The change would take effect July 1, 2018.
Residents in unincorporated areas pay a separate tax for law enforcement. The tax likely will generate about $18 million in the coming fiscal year. The recent county vote, getting rid of an arrangement in place since 1996, allows leaders time to look into other policing options.
CMPD Chief Kerr Putney updated Charlotte City Council on the issue recently, at the same time Joye discussed possible impacts with the Lake Wylie Marine Commission. Putney, according to the Charlotte Observer, told his Council the idea other agencies could better serve the unincorporated areas of the county isn’t true.
“That is false,” Putney said. “No one can provide better than CMPD.”
Joye told the marine commission he doesn’t know all the details of what will happen, but he isn’t one to be alarmist.
“The western side of the county going unpoliced is not going to happen,” he said.
Still, most of the Steele Creek area is unincorporated. Residents from Tega Cay and Fort Mill can’t get directly to Lake Wylie without going through it. Decisions impact the RiverGate area, along with the shores of Lake Wylie. The eastern half of the lake itself is unincorporated Steele Creek.
“It’s pretty much everything on the west side of the county, from Shopton Road, including the lake,” Joye said.
Lake enforcement is looking to replace its longtime boat house on the water. The group is asking for $500,000 for a new facility and increased patrols as more people come to the Lake Wylie area and bring their boats with them. Yet uncertainty on future law enforcement could play into that decision.
For Joye and others, the contract issue comes up at a time when most lake enforcement units are revving up for boating season. Gaston County just put its boats in the water. The York County Sheriff’s Office lake unit just held a boating safety class bringing people from as far away as Anderson County, and from North Carolina. More than a dozen people attended, with future classes planned.
“Hopefully we’ll have at least that many more people that’ll have at least some idea about the operation of a boat before the summer gets here,” said Sgt. Brent Mabry.
Rules for operating boats aren’t as strict as they are for driving cars. In most cases a license or safety course isn’t required to operate a boat. And officers all along the lake say there are plenty of cases where people boat impaired, either from alcohol or other drugs.
With the shores at McDowell Nature Preserve, along Red Fez Club, just across the channel from T-Bones on the Lake in Lake Wylie and other high use areas in Mecklenburg County, the decision on what group provides police service is a big one. Including whether that agency has a lake enforcement unit.
If it isn’t CMPD getting the call, Joye said, everything changes for his group.
“It would shut us down completely on the lake,” he said.