N.C. Sen. Harry Brown is rewriting his measure seeking funds to dredge the North Carolina coast’s shallow-draft inlets after facing pushback from boat owners who complained his originally proposed registration fee hikes were too high.
The reworked Senate Bill 58, which he plans to introduce this week in committee, will propose smaller fee increases and seek to siphon some $2 million from the state’s gas tax that pays for highway improvements. Brown says many people fill up their boats at regular gas stations, and the shallow draft inlets should benefit from the gas tax.
Brown’s original bill included a multi-tiered system for fee hikes depending on the size of the boat. Under the original measure, big boat owners, those with vessels 40 feet or longer, would have been asked to cough up 10 times the current cost: $150 per year. The rewritten measure he plans to introduce in committee is much simpler and scales back those increases.
Currently, it costs $15 a year to register a boat with the state, regardless of the vessel’s size. Boat owners get a $5 break if they pay for a three-year registration.
Under Brown’s latest measure, boats that are 25 feet long or less would pay $25 and vessels 26 feet and longer would pay $50 per year. Three-year registrations still would be allowed but would not come with a price break.
Brown said he’s been in conversations with officials at the N.C. Department of Transportation about using a portion of the gas tax to fund shallow-draft inlets. DOT officials have appeared supportive, according to Brown.
"Right now, any time someone fills their boat up at the pump that money goes to the highway fund. This is just getting a small percentage of that back to put towards the dredging issue," he said.
As coastal lawmakers seek a solution to an ongoing problem, Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender, also introduced companion legislation in the House last week. His measure, House Bill 707, provides a roadmap for the state to ensure dollars collected for inlet dredging "go as far as possible," Millis said.
Among other measures, the bill would direct the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to work towards individual permits for these inlets that allow them to be dredged to deeper depths to make the dredging work last longer, Millis said.