Proposed boat storage ban sparks concerns

MOREHEAD CITY — Sailing, kayaking and canoeing enthusiasts who use a downtown launch site say a recent move by city officials to clean up the property has become a battle of private property rights versus the public’s access to the water.

But city manager Dave Whitlow said Friday a proposed ordinance on the council’s meeting agenda for Tuesday that would end storage of boats and canoes at the South 11th Street site is not meant to deny public use.

“Nobody has talked about the continued launching of boats there, only storage,” Mr. Whitlow said Thursday of the proposal.

The council is set to meet at 5:30 p.m. upstairs in the Municipal Building at 202 S. Eighth St.

The issue was raised during the council’s Sept. 10 meeting. The board authorized Mr. Whitlow to draft an ordinance, which was provided to the News-Times Sept. 19.

The proposed ordinance, under the heading: “Sec. 10-25.  Launching boats from street; moorings,” would make it “unlawful to allow any boat, vessel, trailer or launching apparatus to remain on any town street end or alley way after sunset and before sunrise.”

But the storage ban came as a blow to a number of area residents who keep their boats at the site, including Gunnar Stumpe, who lives nearby and has for years worked to maintain the site and keep track of owners of the boats stored there.

Mr. Stumpe said the problem began when adjacent property owners started complaining about public use of the site. Mr. Stumpe said the property owners had called police complaining of trespassers, which were simply the users of the public site – people Mr. Stumpe said he had come to know well over the years.

Mr. Stumpe has called on city officials to delay action on the ordinance until a public hearing is held.

“I’m a big defender of water access for everybody. I’m not doing this selfishly,” Mr. Stumpe said of his efforts to protect the public’s ability to use the site.

Mr. Stumpe said he also maintains a database of email addresses and names of owners who use and store their boats at the 11th Street site. The group has come to be known as the 11th Street Sailing Club, a moniker he said isn’t entirely accurate.

“The sailing club is not a club. It’s an email list of people using the ramp,” he said.

That has allowed quick identification of boats, canoes and kayaks that have in the past been washed away by floods accompanying coastal storms.

Mr. Stumpe recently offered to city officials to continue maintaining the records and overseeing conditions at the site for the city on a voluntary basis. He said the offer was intended to preserve what has long been a public beach and the only suitable place for miles around to launch sailboats and smaller vessels.

“It’s been used for sailing more than 30 years and nobody ever complained,” he said.

Following the council’s action in September, an unknown individual, whom boaters said represented himself as working for an adjacent property owner, was seen placing bright yellow decals on boats stored at the site, advising owners to remove their boats within two weeks to avoid having the boats towed.

Mr. Whitlow said city officials did not authorize nor place the decals.

“It was not done by Morehead City. If it had been, it would have had the town seal and phone numbers owners could call,” Mr. Whitlow said.

Further complicating the issue are two storage racks at the site, which were provided by the city years ago and paid for with grant funding from L.L. Bean and the American Canoe Association.  

Mr. Whitlow said that the neighboring property owners’ complaints that boats stored at the site were crossing property lines prompted a city committee to recommend doing away with storage completely.

But users say the property lines aren’t clearly defined. Nor are the rules for using the site. Mr. Stumpe said county GIS maps don’t match up with fencing erected by one adjacent property owner.

Mr. Whitlow said GIS maps have no legal standing when it comes to property line disputes, when they arise. And the city isn’t disputing any property lines.

He said the city owns a 60-foot-wide right-of-way that extends from the street end toward the water. Only a professional survey would settle any dispute and no survey is planned.

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