Bill Summary for H 161 (2021-2022)

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Summary date: 

Feb 25 2021

Bill Information:

View NCGA Bill Details2021
House Bill 161 (Public) Filed Thursday, February 25, 2021
Intro. by Hanig, McElraft, Iler, Shepard.

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Bill summary

Makes organizational changes to GS 75A-2, which sets forth defined terms used in the Chapter regarding boating and water safety. Adds to the definition of abandoned vessel to also include a vessel that is either moored, anchored, stores, or docked, in one location, or aground, beached, sunk, or adrift and unattended, for more than 30 consecutive days in public lands or waters of the State or on private property without written permission of the property owner. Adds and defines derelict vessel to mean a vessel left unattended and in a wrecked, junked, sunk, or substantially damaged or dismantled condition such that the condition may affect the seaworthiness of the vessel. Also adds the defined terms days, declared emergency, unattended, and vessel emergency

Enacts Article 5, Abandoned and Derelict Vessels, to GS Chapter 75A. Defines the scope of the Article to include all waters and public and private land of the State. Grants wildlife protectors and other law enforcement officers with general enforcement jurisdiction authority to seize, tow, remove, impound, or relocate any vessel from waters or land of the State pursuant to the Article. Authorizes the Wildlife Resource Commission (WRC) to use staff, equipment, and material under its control or provided by a cooperating local, State, or federal agency, and authorize or contract with private contractors or local, State, or federal agencies for the removal, relocation, storage, or disposal of an abandoned or derelict vessel and restoration of the affected area. Provides for cost recovery from the vessel owner by WRC. Grants civil immunity to WRC, its employees, agents and contractors, and law enforcement acting pursuant to the Article. Requires compliance with applicable State and federal laws, but permits noncompliance with conflicting local acts. Exempts from the Article specified historic shipwrecks and archaeological artifacts. Requires written consent from private property owners prior to removals from private land.

Establishes the Waterway Safety and Access Fund (Fund), administered by WRC and consisting of General Fund appropriations, gifts and grants by non-State entities, and other revenues legislatively allocated to the Fund. Credited funds are not considered cash balance. Places use restrictions on Fund funds, including (1) removal, relocation, abatement, storage, or disposal of abandoned and derelict vessels; (2) meeting State match requirements for specified programs, grants, and activities, including nonprofit programs and natural disaster response; (3) waterway maintenance; and (4) navigational hazard mitigation and abatement. Requires WRC to prioritize removal projects that are matched by a local government or nonprofit. Specifies that the Fund balance does not supplant other State appropriations, program or agency receipts providing funds or disbursements to the Wildlife Resources Fund or the Boating Account. Requires annual reporting by WRC to the specified NCGA committee and division on projects funded, as specified. 

Makes it unlawful to cause a vessel to become abandoned in water of the State or on public, private, or submerged land without permission of the property owner, except in the case of a vessel emergency whereby immediate notification of WRC or the US Coast Guard and removal within 30 days is required. For the first 30 days in waters, the vessel owner is deemed to have written permission for provisioning, repairs, tourism, or recreational use unless permission is revoked in writing on the grounds that the vessel has dragged anchor, is moored in an unauthorized area, or in a marked channel, or the vessel displays no evidence or owner provision of current registration or ownership. Details notice requirements WRC must post on board the vessel and attempt to provide to the vessel owner upon identifying an abandoned vessel. Upon expiration of 30 days' notice, WRC is authorized to remove any vessel or take any other action reasonably necessary at the owner's expense. Authorizes WRC to act, authorize, or join in action with other agencies to immediately determine and abate any unsafe or environmentally hazardous conditions of unattended vessels. Provides for separate notice requirements for declared emergencies. Provides for all costs incurred to be recoverable against the owner, with vessels subject to a lien under GS Chapter 44A.

Provides notice requirements for WRC to post on board a derelict vessel and attempt to provide to the vessel owner upon identifying the vessel. Provides separate notice requirements for declared emergencies. Provides that after 30 days' notice, the vessel will be deemed abandoned if the owner has not corrected the identified issues or removed the vessel, and abated any environmental impacts. Authorizes WRC to approve a one-time extension for 15 or 30 days, by written request.

Deems forfeited abandoned and derelict vessels, with all cargo, tackle, and equipment, which remains unclaimed 30 days after required notices. Deems all costs incurred by the State for towing, removal, and storage, accrued civil fines, and environmental restoration costs a recoverable lien enforceable by sale of the vessel, cargo, tackle, and equipment under GS Chapter 44A. Requires deposit of excess proceeds into the Fund. Provides for disposal of vessels unsold after being offered at public sale.

Effective July 1, 2021.