“I wouldn’t say that his remarks are flawed, but I would say I respectfully disagree with Officer (Chris) Wilkins,” Commissioner Mickey Luker, whose district includes Glenville, said during a December work session.
Overriding Wilkins’ recommendation will require that commissioners hold a public hearing on the matter, adopt a resolution endorsing establishment of a no wake zone and then secure a place on the agenda for the Wildlife Resources Commission’s Feb. 22 meeting in Raleigh. A public hearing is planned for 5:55 p.m. Monday, Jan. 29, at the Jackson County Administration Building in Sylva.
The residents first discussed the matter with commissioners during an Aug. 15 work session, observing that Duke Energy’s “extremely nice enhancement of public access” on the north end of Lake Glenville in 2014 and 2015 has fueled an increase in recreation, resulting in an unintentional safety hazard. That area of the lake contains two small islands that are relatively close to shore; people enjoy swimming and tubing from the shore to those islands, but motorized boats also travel through that channel.
“What we realized over the three summers since these have opened is that this has created a safety issue for all the recreationists, both on the mainland and on the islands in this narrow passageway where people are swimming and boating, all at the same time,” Glenville resident Joyce Waterbury said in August.
Waterbury and fellow Glenville resident Margaret McRae told commissioners that they believe establishing a no wake zone — which would require boaters to pass through the area much slower than is now the case — is the best way to prevent an accident in the future. However, as the Wildlife Commission will consider only no wake zone requests put forth by local governments, the residents asked that commissioners request such a designation.
“The thought would be that just minimizing the speed, people would have time to see the swimmers or the kayakers or the tubers or the paddleboaters,” Waterbury said in August.
Commissioners were sympathetic to their concerns and took a vote in their Aug. 28 meeting to request that the Wildlife Commission conduct a no wake zone investigation. However, on Nov. 9 the county received word that Wilkins, the officer performing the investigation, had recommended that the Wildlife Commission deny the no wake zone request.
In the report he filed, Wilkins characterized the boat traffic as “very light” and maintained that currently “there is no safety concern.”
“With the proposed area being larger than similar areas on the lake with relatively the same traffic, I do not feel it is necessary to limit motorboat operations to no wake speed,” he wrote. “Manual powered vessels and swimmers should proceed in this area with due regard to safety of themselves and others just as a motorvessel should during peak traffic times.”
According to Wilkins’ report, the distance between the shore and the islands is about 220 feet at the narrowest point during low water and 400 feet at the widest point — it would take boaters about three minutes to travel through the channel at no wake speed.
Wilkins expressed concern that creating a no wake zone would create a “perception of safety” for swimmers when in fact “it would never be recommended” to swim the open water between the islands and mainland. Besides, he said, the islands are the private property of Duke Energy, so there is no reason to encourage the public view them as fair game for recreation.
“The creation of a no wake zone may also create more traffic for this area and a perception that the beaches on the islands are public areas,” he wrote.
In a Dec. 6 letter sent on behalf of eight Glenville households, the residents pushed back forcefully against this assessment.
For one thing, while it is true that the islands belong to Duke Energy, the power company has made it clear that it welcomes public use. Indeed, a page on Duke’s website titled “Island Use Guidelines” states that “Duke Energy welcomes and encourages the public to use the lakes for recreational purposes” and follows the statement up with a list of guidelines for “recreating on Duke Energy-owned islands.”
In response to Wilkins’ assertion that there are similar, smaller areas on the lake with relatively the same traffic, the residents pointed out that there are no other islands on the lake offering swimming and public access. And to counter the statement that establishing a no wake zone would create a false “perception of safety,” the residents said that, “it is not logical to contend that the county or state should not make an area safer because then people might believe it to be so.”
Finally, they took issue with the idea that “due regard to safety” should be enough for swimmers and boaters to coexist safely.
“It is precisely because motorboats are not currently proceeding ‘with due regard to safety for themselves and others’ that this petition is being made,” the letter reads. “It has been continually observed that swimmers/manual boaters are at risk from motorized boat traffic.”
During the Dec. 12 work session, commissioners seemed to side with the residents.
“There’s no doubt that it’s a hazard,” said Luker, whose district includes the Glenville area.
Commissioners then voted during their Dec. 18 meeting to set a public hearing and move forward in the effort to convince the Wildlife Commission to override Wilkins’ recommendation.