February 26, 2004
Last Sunday morning, Ron Knaggs on the trawler "Latitude" (the unofficial mayor of the George Town cruising community) made an announcement on the morning VHF radio net that had the whole anchorage buzzing. Ron had received an e-mail from the president of the Seven Seas Cruising Association alerting all cruisers to a funding crisis affecting the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. In a nutshell, the recently released 2005 budget proposal for the US Army Corps of Engineers eliminates any funds to maintain the Atlantic ICW. Dredging and maintenance funds had already been severely cut back in the 2004 budget, but the project criteria contained in the current proposal mean that not a cent will be spent by the Federal government on the 1200 miles of Waterway stretching from Norfolk, VA to Miami, FL.
Our October 17, 2003 entry ("In the Ditch") described the ICW as a safe and picturesque route for pleasure boats cruising up and down the US Atlantic coast. The alternative is "going outside" and risking uncomfortable and even dangerous conditions, especially during the annual southbound migration from Chesapeake Bay in the late fall. The vast majority of the cruisers now in George Town travelled along at least part of the ICW in getting here, and many intend to take it when they head north again in a few months. Needless to say, there was no shortage of commentary when Ron announced the bad news.
On our first trip down the ditch in 1994, we were so paranoid about getting stuck in the mud that we kept our eyes riveted on our strip charts and on the navigation markers in front of us. With white knuckles, we cautiously navigated every curve and straightaway without once going aground. We were novice cruisers then. Now that we're experienced, we run aground all the time on the ICW. Call it overconfidence. What we've lost in piloting skills, we've gained in kedging off abilities. When we heard Ron's announcement, we said to each other, "We're ploughing up the mud in the ICW enough as it is, what will it be like when it begins to shoal?"
We were at the Batelco phone office when it opened Monday morning, clutching our laptop computer. We signed on to the Internet, downloaded our e-mail, and opened an urgent message from our friend, cruising guide author Claiborne Young. Claiborne also had just heard about the budget cuts. He asked, "How long does anyone think the Waterway will remain a viable entity to pleasure craft (not to mention commercial) traffic without dredging those shoal prone spots we can all think of? I can answer that question - NOT LONG!" Claiborne cited the example of Lockwoods Folly Inlet in southeastern North Carolina, which has now shoaled to a depth of only three feet at MLW, resulting in a partial closure to commercial traffic.
"Can you imagine the chaos this situation will cause this spring, if not remedied by dredging, as the annual snowbird migration begins moving north? Consider this; the nearest, completely reliable inlet south of Lockwoods Folly is Charleston, while the nearest reliable seaward cut to the north is the Cape Fear River ... Imagine all northward bound boats, large or small, sail or power, being REQUIRED to go outside from Charleston to Cape Fear, no matter what the weather, to continue their northward migration!"
We then went to the website of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association (AIWA) at www.atlintracoastal.org. The AIWA represents commercial shipping operations on the Atlantic ICW. Its website contains a lot of useful information on whom to lobby and how; spokesperson Rosemary Lynch is telling its members that "we really need to make the case for funding the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. We need to hear from those who make a living from the waterway. Marinas, shrimpers, dredging companies, fishing boats ..."
But what about pleasure boaters like us? We think a good case can be made that recreational boat traffic on the ICW makes a significant positive economic impact on the communities along its route. Moreover, the search and rescue costs borne by government could be high if small boats are forced to leave the shelter of the ICW during unsettled conditions (not to mention the potential human costs of injury and loss of life).
Although the proposed budget cuts hit the Atlantic ICW the hardest, all of the important work done by the Army Corps of Engineers will be affected, from flood control projects in Texas to water supply schemes in Tennessee. As it turns out, the Water Resources Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has a hearing on the Corps' budget scheduled for today. Apparently, the politicians are seriously considering convening another hearing on the issue. Now might be a good time to give your elected representative a call.