03/09/05 — A crisis

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A crisis

Upwards of 700 people showed up at a meeting in Swansboro recently to urge public officials to “save our inlets.”

Theirs was a good cause demanding urgent attention from our delegations serving in Washington and in Raleigh.

The federal budget does not call for any money to keep North Carolina’s shallow-water inlets safe for navigation.

These are inlets used daily by commercial fishing fleets, recreational boaters and fishermen and many cruising vessels. The deep-water inlets serving Morehead City and Wilmington are not threatened.

But presenting immediate and dangerous problems are Bogue, New River, Topsail, Carolina Beach and Lockwood Folly inlets.

They serve hundreds of thousands of boaters every year. But if the channels are not maintained, shifting sand and shoaling make them either impassable or present horrendous threats to boats trying to navigate them.

Commercial fishing boats are threatened with having to make prohibitively long routes to reach and return from the deep water inlets.

Recreational boats operated by private owners or charter boat skippers can find the inlets so shallow they may run aground or encounter dangerous seas in their passage.

In the event of emergencies at sea — sudden storms, unanticipated illness, fire, collisions or breakdowns — rescue vessels such as Coast Guard or tow boats can find themselves faced with long trips to reach navigable inlets.

Not only are inlets not being maintained, neither are the existing channel markers. Many are having to be removed by the Coast Guard because its vessels can’t operate in the shallow water.

This increases the threat of boats running aground while trying to get in or out the inlets.

This country is spending billions of dollars on such things as foreign aid — some of it to countries that do not wish us well.

Congressman Walter Jones, Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, Gov. Mike Easley and members of the General Assembly need to act quickly, effectively and in concert. Seriously threatened are the combined economies of our important commercial fisheries, recreational fishing and boating and our lucrative coastal tourist trade.

Of even greater concern must be the threat that the gradually closing inlets pose to the lives of the hundreds of thousands of our people who use our state’s waterways.

Those 700 who met at Swansboro should be joined by the voices of the millions of individuals and organizations across the state who share their concern.

Published in Editorials on March 9, 2005 10:45 AM