The Lake Wylie Marine Commission voted 6 to 1 during Monday night’s meeting at Good Samaritan United Methodist Church to start the process with North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to expand the no-wake zone near the U.S. National White Water Center. Four commissioners abstained.
A growing number of paddlers in a high-boat traffic area on the Catawba River between Tailrace Marina and the whitewater center has raised safety concerns. Commissioner Neil Brennan of Gaston County proposed placing no-wake buoys on either end of Saddler Island in North Carolina. The current no-wake zone is 50 yards, as required near the marina and docks.
“A no-wake zone will cause boaters to slow down and that’s the goal,” said Brennan. “The goal is to reduce speed for safety.”
Joe Stowe, commission executive director, said prior to the meeting they knew there was opposition to the plan. Several boaters and anglers came out Monday to speak against expanding the no-wake zone.
“I’m all about sharing the lake if it’s shared with me,” said avid angler Matt Queen. He said the problem is “there are hundreds of kayakers in the middle of the channel.”
Ted Hendrix of Gastonia said the commission should focus on better educating paddlers to stop congregating in the main channel, which he said is about 400 feet across.
“The majority are parkers instead of paddlers,” he said. “This would punish power boaters.”
Hendrix was disappointed by the vote.
“I thought there were a few more clearer heads on the commission,” he said. “I think we’re jumping the gun.
“A no-wake could help, but it won’t fix it,” he said.
Ken Cotte, Tailrace Marina manager, agreed there needs to be better education for paddlers and boaters, and more law enforcement. However, he said having boaters slow down shouldn’t be an issue.
“Taking five minutes to slow down out of your day is not a big deal,” he said. “Everyone wants the same thing – no one wants to see someone killed.”
Cotte expects to see more traffic at his marina with plans for the additions of fuel pump docks and a new 8,000-square-foot restaurant expected to open in the spring.
Officer Brian Carey of Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department lake unit, compared the problem to cyclists clogging the road as paddlers are the main channel, “it would be addressed differently.”
He said every day he sees “more kayakers, sunbathers and sleepers in the main channel” rather than the no-wake zone near Tailrace Marina.
“Anything where we can educate people to stay out of the middle; I think it starts with the whitewater center,” he said.
Commissioner Terry Everhart, who retired from this year from CMPD lake unit, was the lone dissenting vote. He said the problem is paddlers don’t know what they’re supposed to do and not to do.
“We’re putting a Band-Aid on an amputation,” he said. “We’re doing nothing to address the problem.”
But Brennan and five other commissioners disagreed.
“I think we on the commission need to err on the side of safety,” he said.
The commission also voted following public comment period on the plan to move no-wake buoys farther out into the cove in the RiverPointe area, near the main channel on Lake Wylie, because of boating traffic.
Stowe said the plan was initiated at the request of the residents.
Brennan asked if the commission, within its authority to do so, could move the buoys as it waits for N.C. Wildlife’s decision.
“I don’t know how long this will take,” he said. “Why would we not do it right now?”
However, as N.C. Wildlife officers would not enforce the no-wake area if the buoys are moved without state approval by law, commissioners voted unanimously to amend the amendment, and go before N.C. Wildlife at its Aug. 28 meeting in Raleigh to ask if it objects to immediately moving the buoys.
Other officers on the lake would enforce the new no-wake zone.
The process for N.C. Wildlife approving both no-wake zone expansion plans could take up to a year.