The state Senate has given tentative approval to a proposal to raise boat fees and use state gas tax revenue to pay for coastal dredging.
"For many years, the federal government took care of dredging In North Carolina," said sponsor Senator Harry Brown, R-Onslow. "But in the past few years, those dollars have pretty much gone away. There’s really no money left now for dredging the shallow draft inlets on the coast."
Brown said inlets are already beginning to fill up, and tourist season hasn't even started yet. "One of the most dangerous places to be is in an inlet that’s too shallow to get in and out of. There are probably more drownings in inlets than any other place on the coast because of that issue."
"I listened to the concerns," Brown said.
The current proposal would increase the registration fee from $15 a year to $25 for boats up to 25 feet long. Fees for boats 26 feet and over would increase from $15 to $50 a year.
"I'd say [it's] a pretty modest increase," Brown said. "We’re talking about registration fees that really haven’t been touched in a long time."
The proposal would also impose a $10 title fee for boats.
Brown says those changes will bring in about $4 million a year.
The bill also takes one-sixth of one percent of gas tax proceeds from the State Highway Fund. That would generate an additional $2 million a year.
The fees would apply to all boats, inland and coastal. Critics of the proposal say boat owners on inland lakes shouldn't be paying for coastal dredging. But Brown pointed out that state dollars are used for dredging lakes, too.
"It’s not a coastal issue. It’s a state issue," Brown said Thursday, noting the economic impact of tourism and sporting tournaments for the state. "If these inlets shoal up, you pull the buoys, they go away, it means millions of dollars to North Carolina."
He added that local governments would have to match the state dredging dollars on a one-to-one basis to draw them down. "The coastal communities have a whole lot of skin in the game," he said.
The measure passed 35-13 with no debate. Its final Senate vote is scheduled for Monday night. It then goes to the House.