Lake Wylie Marine Commission seemingly safe from defunding

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comJanuary 22, 2014 

— Whatever happens upstream, Lake Wylie’s marine commissioners aren’t worrying about losing their voice.

Charlotte Observer earlier this month reported that Gaston County plans to withdraw funding from Mountain Island Lake Marine Commission. Issues such as a failed 2010 plan to limit boat sizes and charge boating fees, which put the county and commission at odds, were cited. According to the bylaws, the commission will be dissolved if Gaston, Mecklenburg or Lincoln counties pulls out.

Joe Stowe served multiple terms on the Lake Wylie Marine Commission representing Gaston County, including time as its chairman. When his final term expired, he became executive director. Stowe said he’s heard only support from his home county for the Lake Wylie group.

“I’ve been reassured by the county commissioners that we at Lake Wylie don’t have similar problems; that we shouldn’t worry about our position with them,” he said.

Phil Ponder, assistant county manager in Gaston County, said the decision on Mountain Island Lake’s commission doesn’t have bearing on Lake Wylie. The feeling of the Gaston County Commissioners was the Mountain Island Lake group “may have overstepped their bounds in some areas.”

“I’ve not heard anything of that nature involving Lake Wylie,” Ponder added.

Yet there is concern still, Stowe said, for the Mountain Island group. Marine commissions from Lake Wylie, Mountain Island Lake and Lake Norman have taken up similar issues in recent years. They have a joint seat on the Catawba Wateree River Basin Advisory Commission. It isn’t uncommon for commissioners in Lake Wylie to meet with those on Mountain Island Lake to discuss regional issues, since Mountain Island is the nearest upstream neighboring water body.

Plus, there’s the issue of drinking water.

“I’m hoping some sort of compromise can be worked out, and that the (Mountain Island Lake) marine commission can continue to exist,” Stowe said. “I think that it could do a good job and perform a good service up there since the water does supply Charlotte and Gaston County.”

Marine commissions perform a variety of functions. They don’t make legal decisions, but they are a stop for lake development projects looking for seals of approval. They work with efforts like RiverSweep and promote cooperation among government groups. In Lake Wylie, the commission brings together officers each month from York, Mecklenburg and Gaston County sheriff’s offices, North and South Carolina natural resource agencies, water quality experts, environmental groups like the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and more.

The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation’s Sam Perkins said marine commission work “really is imperative” to lake safety, and issues the commissions take on “really don’t come up” at a county council level. Perkins said the lake management plan cited as a controversy has been “completely dead” for several years. He doesn’t see why, if a county would defund the Mountain Island Lake group, something similar couldn’t happen here.

“We’re worried that it could happen to Lake Wylie, also,” Perkins said. “For Gaston County to withdraw on Lake Wylie would create a crisis.”

Navigational issues are big with marine commissions, like the Lake Wylie group’s effort to slow down boat traffic near tricky waters at Tailrace Marina and create “no wake” zones under all bridges. The amount of development along Lake Wylie creates areas where navigation is difficult, Perkins said.

Perkins wonders how strongly marine commissions will push issues if there’s a possibility of being defunded over controversial ones.

“It does create an environment where if you’re making decisions, it creates hesitancy,” he said.

Funding for the Lake Wylie Marine Commission comes from equal, annual payments of $25,000 from York, Mecklenburg and Gaston counties.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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