Spearfishing banned, EOC offer declined, WBS church use approved
Citizens will have to wait at least one more month before learning if they will able to watch the town of Wrightsville Beach’s public meetings online. The board of aldermen postponed a decision about accepting a donation offered by town resident, Bill Columbus.
The gift included the necessary audio/visual equipment to stream town meetings on the Internet. Columbus offered to donate a new camcorder, digital encoder and the annual fee for an online, cloud-hosting website, Livestream, totaling roughly $2,345. Several members of the public spoke in favor of the service during the public hearing.
Mayor pro tem Susan Collins, and aldermen Darryl Mills and Elizabeth King voiced concerns about not moving forward with the project until all of the details were presented: who on town staff would operate the camera and what laws concerned archiving public meetings on a private website.
Wrightsville Beach mayor David Cignotti and alderman Bill Sisson said they felt comfortable moving forward with accepting Columbus’ donation before town attorney John Wessell addressed the board’s concerns. Wessell said he could present the legal details of the matter at the board’s November meeting.
Spearfishermen will no longer be allowed in the waters around Johnnie Mercer’s Pier or Crystal Pier after a unanimous vote by the board. Prior to the meeting, town officials received numerous emails both for and against the ban, which prohibits any form of swimming, including spearfishing, snorkeling and scuba diving within 100 feet of commercial fishing piers on Wrightsville Beach. The town’s previous ordinance prohibited recreational swimming within 100 feet of the piers, with the exception of those three specialized activities.
Johnnie Mercer’s Pier owner, Matt Johnson, said he was concerned about conflicts that arise between anglers on the pier and spearfishermen below affecting his business and the safety of spearfishermen.
“Safety is really the reason why we are here,” Johnson said. “Spearfishermen know what they want, the fishermen know what they want and neither of them understand each other so there is a level of conflict and misunderstanding.”
Captain Brad Butler, a dive charter boat captain with Aquatic Safaris, said the allegation made about divers scaring away fish was inaccurate in his experience. Butler also noted that the risk of a diver being hooked by a lure or hit by a sinker was very low and that divers and fishermen often share the same space in many other situations.
Town planner I Eryn Moller said she surveyed multiple coastal North Carolina municipalities and that only Nags Head had an ordinance banning spearfishing around commercial fishing piers.
Sisson said he could empathize with the pier fishermen who felt divers in the water scared fish away.
“I’m a diehard fisherman and I can tell you when divers go in the water, the fish go away, I’ve seen it time and time again,” Sisson said. “The fact that we haven’t had anything happen yet, the key word in that to me is yet; I don’t want to see a tragedy occur.”
The board voted unanimously in favor of the ban, but agreed to continue to allow those specialized activities around Masonboro jetty.
WBS church use approved
The board also voted unanimously in favor of allowing two fifth grade classes at Wrightsville Beach School to occupy two classrooms at Wrightsville Beach Baptist Church to alleviate overcrowding issues. Eddie Anderson, director of facility planning and construction for New Hanover County Schools, said parents and busses would drop those children off at the church in the morning to minimize the move’s effect on the usual traffic pattern.
“This text amendment is not an attempt to fix the problem but we do not plan to add to the congestion,” Anderson said. “It gives the school board more time to come up with a more permanent solution.”
Although NHCS wanted the text amendment to extend for two years, the board decided to only grant access for the remainder of this school year, which the board hoped would give NHCS more incentive to develop a permanent fix for the issue. The students are expected to begin attending classes at the church on the week of Monday, Oct. 22.
EOC offer declined
After a brief discussion in which the board members for and against paying for a spot in New Hanover County’s Emergency Operations Center voiced their opinions, the board voted 3-2 against the resolution.
Cignotti and Sisson voted for paying the lump sum amount of $70,000 but King, Mills and Collins voted against it. While Mills stated that he would rather see the town use $70,000 to purchase sand for beach renourishment, King and Collins said they would rather have included an expense of that magnitude in the town’s budget process.
Cignotti and former town manager Bob Simpson said this would likely be the last time New Hanover County would offer the town a space in the EOC, since this was the third time a board has refused the offer.
In other business, adoption of the town’s Unified Development Ordinance was tabled until the board’s November meeting, pending planning staff addressing a series of concerns alderman Sisson raised about the clarification of some technical language in the UDO.