ONLINE UPDATE: Surfers, swimmers restricted

by Cole Dittmer
Friday, May 10, 2013

Altering its preliminary 3-2 decision to prohibit surfing and swimming within 200 feet of commercial fishing piers, in the second reading of the ordinance the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen voted 4-1 to increase the length to 350 feet for surfers and keep the 200-foot restriction for swimmers. Mayor Pro Tem Bill Sisson and alderman Darryl Mills, who originally voted for the 200-foot restriction at the board’s April meeting, changed their position to join aldermen Susan Collins and Elizabeth King in voting for the new tiered restrictions.

As he did in the previous meeting, Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti deferred to Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief Frank Smith and ocean rescue director Dave Baker, who said the 200-foot restrictions for both would be the safest for everyone and the most feasible for the Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue staff.

Matt Johnson, owner and operator of Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, led the board’s Thursday, May 9, meeting in the public comment segment by calling for more separation of surfers and swimmers from the pier.

“The 200-foot restriction, which is being endorsed by ocean rescue, is too close and has caused conflict with surfers, swimmers and fishermen for more than three years,” Johnson said. “It is a bad idea and is not safe.”

After considering the subject further after his vote at the April meeting, Sisson said he believed it should be bigger to send a message to surfers who continually disregard the restrictions.

“They are not paying attention to the lifeguards who try to whistle them out of the zone and they are just going to do what they want to no matter what,” Sisson said. “Those people need to be controlled because they are presenting a danger, not only to themselves if they get tangled up in something but to the swimmers as well.”

In addition to wanting a larger restricted area, Sisson said he would also like to see two different distance restrictions for swimmers and surfers with the swimming restriction being smaller. However, Smith and Baker said the existing tiered system has caused confusion.

“The locals get it mostly … but especially in the Mercer’s pier area we are dealing with folks from all over the place,” Smith said. “Everybody wants consistent enforcement … I really do believe that if we could agree on one distance with one marker and say you stay outside of that regardless it would help us get to that uniform enforcement.”

In response, Collins said she would like to see separate distance to provide a stretch of beach just for swimmers after the summer surf zones end every day when lifeguards leave their stands at 5 p.m.

“I’m hearing you but I am remembering back in 2005 when the [surf zone] committee met that the mission was to have a plan worked out for surfers, swimmers and fishermen to suit all recreational activities,” Collins said. “I am concerned about the swimmers … it is not safe for me to swim where surfers are surfing.”

Town manager, Tim Owens, said another option for marking the boundaries would be to anchor buoys in the water in front of the no surfing poles to be placed on the beach, which he felt comfortable would work.

In Sisson’s motion he included the installation of these buoy markers at both piers and with the requirement for the board of aldermen to review how the ordinance worked after the summer season. 

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