MILLVILLE — Some navigation beacons that are due to be removed from the Maurice River for the winter, as usual, may not be back in the spring, as usual, an idea that baffles local officials and boat owners . This idea is useless and dangerous.
The US Coast Guard maintains a system of buoys to mark a safe channel along the winding river. The buoys range from near Fowser Road Landing, South Millville, south to Commercial and Maurice River Townships and Delaware Bay. Buoys are removed during the winter in areas where ice can form and damage them.
A recent Coast Guard public notice identifies 31 buoys, from Fowser Road to above the Mauricetown Bridge, that would be removed and not replaced. The public can file comments with the service until November 29.
The Coast Guard did not respond to the Daily Journal to explain the reason for its proposal. He responded this week to inquiries from some city officials as well as U.S. Representative Jeff Van Drew.
Millville City Commissioner Charles Kirk Hewitt emailed the Coast Guard saying the city opposes the idea, largely because of the public safety implications. City firefighters are occasionally called in to assist boaters.
“Specifically, Peek Preserve is very dangerous, as conditions are constantly changing with storms and changing tides,” Hewitt wrote. “The City of Millville does not have the manpower or the proper equipment to handle such a project.”
Hewitt said budget priorities appear to be behind the idea.
“If you know the river, you know where to stay,” said Hewitt, who fishes the river for sport. “And you know how to crawl through that. But an ordinary boater who says, “Well, let’s get on the ramp at Millville and go down the river,” they might be in trouble.
Hewitt said buoys are usually removed at this time of year, but the threat of ice no longer really exists. “These buoys can stay in the river all year round,” he said.
Hewitt said fewer boaters are on the river during the winter, but those who do tend to be experienced and knowledgeable about its quirks.
Maurice River Township Mayor Ken Whildin said the regular shifting of the river channel and changes in depth make the river a potentially dangerous body of water.
Wildin said the river can be a few feet shallow or as deep as 20 feet. It is also dotted with mudflats that can anchor a boat and in shallow sections they can be difficult to spot in low light conditions, he said.
“We’ve had a few rescues up there, probably two a year with the fire department and the dive team,” Whildin said. “And that’s with the buoys in place. They do not take into account the safety of boaters.
Additionally, local officials said activity on the river has increased. This is partly related to increased maritime commercial activity around Dorchester and partly related to recreational users.
“Since COVID, I’ve seen an increase, a significant increase, in boaters on the river,” Whildin said. “And I don’t see that going away. Because once you invest in a boat, it’s not something you get rid of.
Commercial Township Mayor Mike Vizzard said he wrote to the Coast Guard to stress the safety aspect of the situation. “I haven’t heard anything back,” he said.
Downe Township is a remote municipality from the Maurice River itself, but Bayside Township has many residents who use this river. One is Mayor Mike Rothman, owner of a charter fishing boat.
Rothman said “people started blowing up” his phone immediately after the notice was posted on Oct. 18. He is among the local officials recording official comments.
Rothman also agreed that the traditional removal of buoys in winter is not justified for weather reasons.
“There are so many people using this waterway, including the (New Jersey) Marine Police, Fish and Game, and so many local people using this river, it would be an absolute mistake,” Rothman said.
The New Jersey State Police did not comment on the proposal because it could affect marine law enforcement.
For more information
Users may provide comments to project number 05-23-002(D) on the Coast Guard Fifth District Waterway Proposals Data/Comment Form at: https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/lnms/D05_LNM_Special_Notice_Waterway_Proposal_Feedback_Form_Indefinite.pdf.
The submission may also be emailed to: [email protected].
Comments may also be sent via regular postal service to: US Coast Guard Fifth District Waterways Management (dpw) 431 Crawford Street, Room 100 Portsmouth, VA 23704. Attn: Ward B. Posey.
Joe Smith is a NE Philly native transplanted to South Jersey over 30 years ago, now keeping tabs on the South Jersey government. He is a former and current senior editor of the Daily Journal in Vineland, the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, and the Burlington County Times.
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