North Carolina Works to Preserve Coastal Access Boaters along the North Carolina coast are facing ever-increasing fees to get in the water. Now, the state has set up a commission to look at ways coastal towns can preserve what's left of their public water access.
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North Carolina Works to Preserve Coastal Access

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North Carolina Works to Preserve Coastal Access

North Carolina Works to Preserve Coastal Access

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North Carolina is struggling with a problem familiar to other coastal states. A booming market in waterfront real estate is changing the character of the coast and making it harder for the public to enjoy the water. The North Carolina legislature recently created a blue ribbon panel to look at what the state can do to protect public access.

Megan Williams of member station WHQR in Wilmington reports.

MEGAN WILLIAMS: Kennedy's Marina is a time capsule of what the North Carolina coast used to be. A giant live oak spreads over a wooden shack, where old men sit around in rockers, trading fish stories. Small, family-owned Marinas are vanishing fast in these parts, says owner Bobby Kennedy(ph).

Mr. BOBBY KENNEDY (Owner, Kennedy's Marina): Johnson's is about a block around. It's been sold. And then Harrelson's(ph) bringing (unintelligible) and Four Oaks Marina, all those have been sold. Houses are going there. And we've got a list longer than your arm for boat slips and ramp passes.

WILLIAMS: But most of those boaters will never make it off that list. Kennedy says he's just waiting for a high enough offer from one of the developers hankering to turn his dirt lot into some of Wilmington's newest high-end homes.

Mr. KENNEDY: A lot of those have just said you can just call us when you're ready. You know, we've got the money. And we got other people calling from out of town, said we'll be there an hour, you tell us what you want for it.

WILLIAMS: This kind of deal, repeated up and down North Carolina's coast, has state officials worried. The new committee is supposed to find ways to save the things that give the coast its character. Small marinas, boat ramps, fishing piers and processing houses. Michael Boylan heads the panel. He says North Carolina has only to look south to see what it doesn't want to become.

Mr. MICHAEL BOYLAN (Heads North Carolina's New Committee): A lot of folks, even us here in a committee, are saying look at Florida right now. Because that's what could happen in North Carolina in the near future, where the values of anything near the water are so high that you can't even get the typical uses that you want on the waterfront anymore.

WILLIAMS: To keep the coast from going completely residential, North Carolina is investigating three main tools - tax incentives, new zoning rules and simply buying land and facilities outright. One coastal community is already trying to use those tools.

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WILLIAMS: Emerald Isle sits on a curving barrier island just north of Camp Lejeune. The town wants to save its last fishing pier from being torn down for new condos. It's a place Theresa Simmons(ph) drives nearly an hour to visit.

Ms. THERESA SIMMONS (Resident, North Carolina): This is where everybody comes. Same faces every year, you kind of look forward to seeing the faces you've met over the years like that. So this is home, just like a second home.

WILLIAMS: Down the pier is retired Navy man Patrick Ashton(ph). He says pier fishing is a way of life that's in serious danger.

Mr. PATRICK ASHTON (U.S. Navy, Retired): Kids start fishing at places like this. And when these places go away, the children lose a valuable recreation resource that they can use for their lifetime.

WILLIAMS: Emerald Isle hopes to purchase the pier with a $3 million state grant, and they've sweetened the deal with some creative zoning. Developers can build more housing if they preserve the pier. But the deal is stalled for the moment. All the anglers know is they have at least one more year to cast their lures and fight for the future of their favorite fishing spot.

For NPR News, I'm Megan Williams in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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