Gaston County withdrawal to end Mountain Island Lake commission

bhenderson@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 8, 2014 

Gaston County says it will withdraw from the Mountain Island Lake Marine Commission, effectively disbanding a public advocate for the region’s largest water source.

County officials cite differences with the marine commission that began with a controversial plan in 2010, later withdrawn, to limit boat sizes and charge boating fees.

More recently, said Gaston County commissioners’ Chairman Tracy Philbeck, the county’s appointees “really felt that the marine commission wanted to operate outside its original mission, trying to put too many regulations on homeowners. It’s something we’ve heard for years.”

Philbeck and commission members say boating no-wake zones have been one source of conflict. The commission has created several zones that aren’t enforceable by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, which patrols the lake.

Mecklenburg, Gaston and Lincoln counties border Mountain Island Lake and appoint members to the seven-member commission. The commission dissolves if any county withdraws, according to the state legislation that created it in 1997.

Marine commission Chairwoman Kari Lanning, who lives in Lincoln County, said she was stunned by Gaston County’s departure. The withdrawal will be effective June 30, according to a letter from Gaston County last month.

“The issues they raised then are not valid now,” she said, noting that the 2010 lake plan came up when a member appointed by Gaston County chaired the commission. “If they’re unhappy with something their own commissioners were doing, why penalize the rest of the counties?”

Philbeck declined Lanning’s request to meet about the conflict.

Lanning said the commission’s dissolution will eliminate a public forum and advocate for the narrow, 3,281-acre lake.

The commission is one of three that serve Mountain Island, Lake Norman and Lake Wylie. Mountain Island Lake is the primary water supply for Charlotte, Gastonia and Mount Holly.

The commissions have limited authority but work with lake manager Duke Energy, county agencies and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission on water quality, shoreline issues and boating safety.

Last year the commission launched a loaner-lifejacket program, sent books on boater safety to local schools and took part in a cleanup that pulled 4,000 pounds of trash from the lake, Lanning said.

Rusty Rozzelle, Mecklenburg County’s water-quality manager, said he was surprised by the move.

“It’s certainly going to be a bad thing if the commission is dissolved,” he said. “They’re a huge advocate for clean water and have been very supportive of everything we’ve tried to do.”

Gaston County had threatened to pull out of the commission in 2012, citing “contentious issues” including an unfinished reevaluation of the lake plan.

“Some of the present marine commission members seem to have a factious relationship which contributes to ongoing disputes,” then-county manager Jan Winters wrote to managers in Mecklenburg and Lincoln counties.

Current commissioners say they thought fences had been mended. The controversial lake plan was dropped.

But after a brief discussion at their December meeting, Gaston County commissioners decided to pull the plug.

“The commission’s had enough,” Philbeck said.

Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender

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