July 5, 2008

Carteret House Hopefuls Are Voicing Support for Water Access Funding Bill

By Jannette Pippin, The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.

Jul. 5--MOREHEAD CITY -- Not every issue may be a divisive one in the race for the District 13 seat in the N.C. House of Representatives.

The $20 million that was doled out along the coast this year for public water access projects was money that Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Emerald Isle, believes was well spent.

McElraft's challenger in her bid for re-election was instrumental in efforts that resulted in the creation last year of the Waterfront Access and Marine Industry Fund and she wants to see the momentum behind efforts continue.

Both McElraft and Democratic candidate Barbara Garrity-Blake have expressed support for Senate Bill 2043 introduced in late May by state Sen. Charles Albertson, D-Duplin. The bill calls for a second year of funding for the WAMI Fund, with another $20 million disbursed to acquire waterfront land for public access and potential capital and infrastructure improvements to working waterfronts.

The bill has been referred to the appropriations/base budget committee and is one item that McElfraft hopes to see included in the budget.

"The more that we can do for public water access, the better," she said.

Garrity-Blake served on the Waterfront Access Study Committee that recommended the funding of a water access program and said via a news release that she wants to see the momentum behind the program continue.

"I realize this is a tight budget year," said Garrity-Blake, a resident of Down East Carteret County's Gloucester community. "But I urge our legislators to pass this bill and maintain the momentum that we started. The seafood industry is in crisis, and the public's access to the water will only diminish unless we stay vigilant. Our waters are the heart of our economy here on the Crystal Coast, and all citizens have a right to enjoy these waters."

Garrity-Blake said the proposed second round of funding would come from the state general fund, increasing the potential uses of the money.

"This money would come out of the general fund, and therefore not have the limitation's of last year's funding, which had to be state purchases of property. This money could go toward capital improvements like dock repairs or seafood processing," she said.

The first-year funds were approved for projects up and down North Carolina's coast, with several in the Carteret County area of District 13.

Pending final negotiations of approved projects, funds will go toward projects such as a new ocean fishing pier in Emerald Isle, a partnership between the town and the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores; expansion of Morehead City's water access site at Radio Island; and a mixed commercial/recreational docking site at Cedar Island.

As a Carteret County commissioner McElraft supported the county's creation of a public water access fund and last year she introduced a bill to provide funding for land acquisition to increase waterway access for coastal counties.

She said it was several similar efforts that came together to support last year's @0 million for the WAMI Fund.

McElraft said the bill being considered is not for recurring funds but acknowledges what she said is currently an important need.

"We've got to buy property for public access before it gets developed," she said.

Contact Carteret County reporter Jannette Pippin at [email protected] or 252-808-2275. Visit www.jdnews.com to comment on this report.


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