Local police departments are looking for a way to combat noisy boaters near Lake Norman shorelines, but a bill introduced in the state General Assembly could have unintended consequences.
Sen. Jeff Tarte, of Cornelius, sponsored Senate Bill 142, and Rep. Charles Jeter, of Huntersville, sponsored House Bill 186. The bills, which are essentially the same, came about following a request by the Cornelius Police Department to handle noise complaints.
But the broadly written legislation would allow five Lake Norman towns – Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Mooresville and Troutman – to enforce any town ordinance within 2,500 feet of the shoreline, not just noise restrictions.
Jeter did not return a phone call for comment before The Herald Weekly's deadline.
Lake regulations are typically controlled by the Lake Norman Marine Commission.
Noise ordinances can only be enforced on land within the city limits, Cornelius Police Chief Bence Hoyle said.
“We’ve had a lot of issues with party boats on the lake making a lot of noise,” Hoyle said. “They have DJ equipment on their boats and can pull up right to the shoreline and just blast a house right in front of them. We don’t have an ordinance to deal with that.”
But apart from a recent revision that states the town ordinances cannot supercede existing state laws governing boating safety, wildlife and conservation, the bills do not explicitly outline which ordinances can be enforced – or, perhaps more importantly, which ones cannot.
The bills state that Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Mooresville, and Troutman can enforce their jurisdiction’s ordinances on Lake Norman extending 2,500 feet from the 760 waterline on the shore. The most recent version prohibits one town from extending its ordinances into another town's lakefront area.
Tarte said the bill will protect the 17,000 registered boats and the $1.5 billion worth of assets on the lake from vandalism.
“We have a lot of boats with thefts and vandalism,” he said. “A boat that is on the dock is technically in the water and that’s supposed to be (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police) jurisdiction. If someone is on a boat, local police can (now) enforce their rules.”
Hoyle acknowledged that the bill’s language is broad, but said that “we have to make sure we have the authority to deal with any quality-of-life issue.”
“It’s hard to distinguish between a house and boat dock,” Hoyle said. “By extending them out to the water, we are able to deal with issues about the noise and different things that could come up. "We aren’t trying to (take away) any of the privileges that are out there,” he said. “We are trying to deal with those who are abusing the privileges.”
The way the laws currently work, the Cornelius Police would have to go out on the water to meet with boaters and ask them to turn their music down.
The Cornelius Police has one patrol boat, but do not have a scheduled lake patrol time. Hoyle has been outspoken for several years in pushing Mecklenburg County to allow his department to take over lake patrol.
“A lot happens after bars close and on the weekends, and there is just so much of it that wasn’t getting addressed,” Hoyle said. “We tried to get CMPD to enforce it, but they aren’t out there enough."
The cheif said Cornelius police are not going to travel the lake trying to “catch people,” but when they get a complaint or hear a loud boat, “we want to be able to do something about it.”
Ron Shoultz, executive director of the Lake Norman Marine Commission, said that he understands the driving factors behind the bill, but he believes it is a little "far-reaching."
"As a commission, we support the activities of the municipalities or county in regards to enforcement to regulations and laws that are for the common good,” he said.
Shoultz said he sees no change in the way the marine commission will operate and that the commission will work with the towns going forward.
Regarding the bill's vague nature, Tarte said, “If (the police departments) abuse it, we will remove the statute.”
If passed, the Lake Norman ordinances will go into effect on July 1. The bill will likely see more revisions before it's passed.
“We’ve been dealing with this even back when I was mayor (of Cornelius),” Tarte said. “I am now in a place that I can do something about it.”
"The lake is a critical part of Cornelius, with 70 miles of shoreline,” Hoyle said. “We don’t want to stop recreation. We just want to be reasonable and considerate.”
Proposed House Bill 186
Here's a look at the bill submitted in the N.C. House of Represented as of March 19:
An act authorising the towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersille, Mooresville, and Troutman to enforce ordinances adopted by the towns on the waters of Lake Norman.
The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:
SECTION 1. A municipality may enforce ordinances adopted under Chapter 160A of the General Statutes, the city's charter, or a local act enacted by the General Assembly on the waters of Lake Norman extending 2,500 feet from the 760 foot elevation line on the shore
within, and adjacent to, the municipal corporate limits. A municipality shall not enforce any municipal ordinance pursuant to this act if the ordinance conflicts with the provisions of Chapter 75A or Chapter 113 of the General Statutes.
SECTION 2. This act applies to the Towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Mooresville, and Troutman.
SECTION 3. This act becomes effective July 1, 2013.