People who live in communities along the creeks and rivers of northern Anne Arundel County all share a passion for the water. But a spreading dispute over use of one creek shows that homeowners love their waterfront lives for different reasons.
The Riviera Beach Community Improvement Association has asked the state to impose a 6-knot speed limit, about 6.9 mph, on part of Stony Creek, a favorite area for water-skiers and boaters. Association members say that wakes and waves from the water activity are major contributors to beach erosion.
Water sports enthusiasts are furious. They say that Stony Creek is the only place in the area where they can safely have their fun. All other area waterways have speed restrictions, and moving farther to the Patapsco River or the Chesapeake Bay would be dangerous, they say.
"Any time you're dealing with the water, there are always competing interests, whether it's recreational crabbers vs. commercial crabbers or residents vs. boaters," said Philip C. Jimeno, the Democratic state senator who represents Riviera Beach.
"Obviously, people who have purchased boats want to use them," he said. "But people living by the water expect peace and quiet and protection of the shoreline. They're not the easiest issues to resolve."
The Riviera Beach association began pushing for a speed limit in December by filing a request with the state Department of Natural Resources. The group wants the slowdown to begin from the Stoney Creek Bridge to the mouth of the creek, where it drains into the Patapsco River.
Each boating season, from April to October, the department studies citizen petitions to change boating regulations of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The department will conduct field surveys and take public comment on the requested changes until Sept. 7, then forward a recommendation to the Boat Act Advisory Committee, which could accept, reject or modify the recommendation. The department secretary makes a final decision.
If approved, the regulations would take effect at the beginning of next year's boating season.
`Very busy area'
Most of the requests are to establish 6-knot speed limits in creeks and rivers in Anne Arundel, Charles, Queen Anne's, Kent, Dorchester and St. Mary's counties.
Of 11 proposed changes, the Stony Creek request has generated the most public response, said Capt. David Street, boating regulations coordinator with the Maryland Natural Resources Police.
"It's a very busy area," Street said.
Members of the Riviera Beach association maintain that Stony Creek is too busy. They say an environmental consultant the association hired has told them that water activity in the creek exacerbates shoreline erosion. They note that other area waterways, including Rock Creek and Nabbs Creek, have had speed limits for years.
"Everybody comes up here to go water-skiing or ride Jet Skis," said Cass Gorski, association secretary. "You can just fly through."
Gorski said the association spends about $200,000 annually to control erosion. The money is raised through a Riviera Beach Erosion Control District, in which residents of Riviera Beach, Surfside and Rock Creek Estates pay additional property taxes to maintain the shoreline. The district spans the peninsula between Stony and Rock creeks. This year, the tax rate is 10 cents per $100 of assessed value.
"We've lost a lot of beach over the years," said Gorski, looking at a sinking bulkhead in Stony Creek. "When a wake hits that hard, it's just like a storm."
Nowhere else to go
Personal watercraft users who flock to Stony Creek on the weekends say they have nowhere else to go.
"You think I want to go and ski out in the bay?" Riviera Beach resident James Jernigan asked. "No, that's why my parents bought a house here."
Jernigan, 18, said he spends his weekends cruising around the waters of Stony Creek at 55 to 65 mph, about 48 to 57 knots, on his watercraft. Bay waters are too rough, he said.
Jerry Brewis, a resident of Clear Water Beach, said he has polled 112 families in the area who live directly on the water, and 80 people signed a petition opposing the speed limit. Brewis, who owns a large assortment of watercraft, including water skis, large motorboats and antique boats, said 6 knots is a "step above idling."
Street said state officials take many factors into account when establishing speed limits in waterways, including safety, erosion potential and who uses the water. One body of water can have several speed limits depending on the time, the day of the week and amount of boat traffic.
Sections of Severn River have limits of 6 knots; others have 20 knots at night and 35 knots in the day; and others are unrestricted.
Ideal for water sports
A speed restriction on Stony Creek "would leave absolutely no place to water-ski or do water sports of any kind," said Charles Anderson, owner of Florida Boat Sales in Pasadena.