Friday, February 7, 2020

Georgia's Controversial Anchoring Regulation



Every time I depart by boat from The Ford Plantation heading south, there are several lovely spots to anchor overnight along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) or close to various inlets if I am at sea in decent weather. I have spent many great evenings along this route. Unfortunately, it is now illegal to anchor in many of my favorite spots because of a new Georgia law and a regulation that has been issued in its wake. Georgia now has the most restrictive anchoring regulations in the nation. The regulation impacted 62% of anchorages along the ICW and eliminated 39% of them altogether. Here are anchorages near the ICW in the Sapelo Island area (red eliminated, yellow impacted):
Red Anchorages Eliminated, Yellow Impacted, Green Still Usable

The law is now codified as Section 52-7-8.4 of the Georgia Code. Oddly, the Act is premised on the prevention of sewage discharge from live-aboard boats in inland waters, something that has been illegal under the Clean Water Act at least since 1972. It is estimated that 90% of boaters fully comply with the federal law, and it is a fact that boaters care more than most about water quality and preventing pollution. Nevertheless, the statute starts off as follows:

52-7-8.4.
(a) The General Assembly finds that, because of the frequency of live-aboard vessels utilizing the estuarine areas of this state, it is necessary for the protection of the public health, safety, and welfare to prohibit the discharge of sewage from such vessels into estuarine areas of this state. It is declared to be the intent of the General Assembly to protect and enhance the quality of the waters of such estuarine areas by requiring greater environmental protection than is provided pursuant to Section 312 of the federal Water Pollution Control Act, as amended, such that any discharge of sewage from a live-aboard vessel into the waters of such estuarine areas shall be prohibited. [Nothing new here.]

The act goes on to clarify that sewage cannot be dumped overboard in Georgia waters, making something illegal that was already illegal, and seems to require that any valve that allows sewage to go overboard or be pumped overboard must be "secured". It says "Examples of secured mechanisms considered to be effective at preventing discharges include, but are not limited to, closing the seacock and padlocking, using a non-releasable wire tie, or removing the seacock handle with the seacock in the closed position." So now the valves on my boat that would permit direct discharge or pumping sewage overboard are secured with wire ties or have the handle removed. I'm also required to keep records of when and where I pump out sewage at a marina pump-out station. 

Securing valves with plastic wire ties that can be cut with scissors or removed handles that can be replaced seems a little silly, and targeting pleasure boats is outrageous in light of the problem of sewage plants that overflow and dump raw sewage every day in Georgia. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division keeps a running 30-day tally of these spills on its website. If there is a measurement of the amount of the spill, the total gallons is shown. As of yesterday, for the last 30 days, 582,689 gallons of raw sewage has been reported as flowing into our creeks and rivers. Many spills are not measurable and no doubt the total amount is much higher. In December, Valdosta, GA had a spill of 7.5 million gallons of raw sewage that overflowed for several days into the woods, into a creek, and then into a river that flows down into Florida. But OK, even though I'm not part of the problem, I don't mind wire-tying my sewage valves and I don't mind complying with what was already federal law.

In a very odd way, since the act is premised upon sewage discharge, it goes on to grant broad authority to the Department of Natural Resources to regulate anchoring. Anchoring has nothing to do with illegal sewage discharge, which can occur while a boat is stationary or moving. I am flabbergasted that the state would impose draconian anchoring regulations in the name of preventing already illegal sewage discharge. And it is with the regulation (called an Administrative Order) that the DNR went way overboard. To summarize, it prevents anchoring within 1,000 feet of any structure and within 1,000 feet of any shellfish beds along the shore. Some creeks and rivers less than 2,000 feet wide have shellfish along both shores, so the whole river is a now a no-anchor area. There is an exception that allows anchoring between 300 and 1,000 feet from any marina, even if within 1,000 feet of another structure. A "structure" is not really defined, but the regulation refers to "any structure such as wharfs, docks, piers, pilings, bridge structures or abutments". So if I take my boat up a creek and there is an old abandoned dock on the shore, or even a single piling, I can't anchor within 1,000 feet.

This screenshot below illustrates the odd rule. It shows Kilkenny Creek Marina where there is no anchoring within 300 feet (red), the (blue) permitted zone from 300 to 1,000 feet from the marina, and then the no anchoring zone beyond (pink) because there are structures within 1,000 feet. To go to dinner at Marker 107 Restaurant, it would be a balancing act to be sure you are in one of the little blue zones.


Kilkenny Creek Marina and Marker 107 Restaurant

Another chart shows the areas near Thunderbolt and Isle of Hope in Savannah where anchoring is forbidden (in pink). Part of the problem is that the DNR has published these maps but states that you may not rely on them. So it is difficult in many cases to figure out where you can be overnight.
Thunderbolt/Isle of Hope Area
As you can well imagine, the boating community is up in arms. A Facebook group has been set up called "Save Georgia's Anchorages". Marine industry groups are getting involved, fearing that Georgia's marinas, boatyards and resorts will suffer as boaters on the annual north-south migrations will choose to stay offshore if they cannot enjoy traditional and beautiful anchorage areas. It is not too long a run from Hilton Head, SC offshore to Fernandina Beach, FL, or vice versa. A poll taken of 593 ICW cruisers shows that 77% of them would do their best to skip Georgia as they migrate north and south, a very bad sign for marinas, boatyards, restaurants, and other businesses that rely on the boating community. 

Finally, just in the last few days, Boat US, the largest organization of boaters, has issued a "call to action" to lobby the governor and state legislature to intervene. As the organization said:

This 1,000-foot offset needlessly eliminates anchorages all over the state. It will affect numerous boaters, many of whom transit Georgia waters as part of the annual migration along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) that brings in millions of dollars to Georgia businesses. There is no reasonable safety or waterway-management reason for taking such a significant swath of state waters from the boating public.


Curiously, DNR did create so-called “Marina Zones” that allow boaters to anchor as close as 300 feet to marinas or facilities that provide fuel, dinghy access, provisions, vessel maintenance or other services, regardless of whether other structures exist nearby. This can only lead to the conclusion that the reason for the greater offset from private structures outside these zones was to provide waterfront landowners with near exclusive use and enjoyment of our shared waterways.


Boat U.S. recognizes the need for states to manage their waterways and supports reasonable regulations that protect the public’s access. The ability of anchor overnight is an important part of how many boaters choose to enjoy the water. Please send a message today asking to repeal this rule.

The strangest thing about this all is that a law that was premised on stopping pollution from sewage discharge has morphed into complex rules about where one can anchor. Where a boat anchors has nothing to do with sewage, which cannot be legally discharged anywhere in the inland waters of Georgia, whether the boat is anchored or not. This regulation may have something to do with protecting land owners who don't want anyone anchoring in their back yard. Of course they don't own the water, but this regulation in effect grants it to them by saying any dock or piling can keep every boat from anchoring unless it is more than 1,000 feet away.

We have anchored fairly close to houses overnight on occasion, but we are quiet and respectful of our neighbors when we do so. This regulation has gone far beyond its intention of stopping the dumping of sewage. There are still a few spots to anchor, but some of the prime ones are gone. Here's hoping the political efforts are successful in bringing more balance to this regulation. We're happy to protect clean water and be good neighbors where we anchor, but this is just a strange and screwed up law and regulation.

UPDATE: House Bill 833 has been introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives that would negate some of the worst provisions of the current law and regulation. See http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/20192020/188593.pdf.





3 comments:

Ted A said...

Nice blog entry and capture of the issues around these regs. Thanks for the mention of our FB Group. BTW, beautiful Selene. There one that graces our marina here at Windmill Harbour. m/v Andiamo.

John Samford said...

Thanks. I believe Andiamo departed when we did from Jacksonville a couple of weeks ago. We chatted by radio, but I think they stopped before we did and then passed us early the next morning before we got started. Nice boat!

Ted A said...

As resident of Georgia, the state legislators would be interested to see your blog entry. I know some of my Georgia contacts are receiving personalize responses from Representatives that are stating their support for HB 833