A proposal to lower the speed limit on the Middle River to 6 knots up to the mouth of the river was rejected Thursday by a state Department of Natural Resources panel.
The Boat Act Advisory Committee voted 14-3 to defeat the proposal, originally proposed by the Bowleys Condo Marina and the Bowleys Condo Association.
The vote came after more than 100 people turned out for a public hearing at the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Compnay to debate the issue.
Those in favor of a lower speed limit cited safety concerns, while those against it worried about harmful impacts on recreational activity and businesses along Middle River.
Lowering the speed limit would limit water-based activities, DNR police don’t believe a change is necessary and that a majority of boaters have adjusted to current conditions were some of the reasons cited by the committee for rejecting the petition.
“This speed limit change was unnecessary,” said Debbie Henniger, a real estate agent and longtime boater who lives in Wilson Point, after the meeting. “This is great news for those who want to live, work and enjoy Middle River.”
Several restaurant and marina owners pointed out that the extra time and gas required to go leave the river for more open water could make boaters decide to go elsewhere where there were fewer restrictions, leading to a loss of business.
“Middle River has just emerged as a destination,” said Ray Porter of the Baltimore County Marine Trades Association. “It would be catastrophic to restaurants, marinas and repair shops as well as to many in-land businesses that get business from the boaters who are now coming into Middle River.”
Many who testified during the public meeting felt the majority should rule and not have to bow to a vocal minority. Many also testified that the biggest problem was a lack of education on the part of the boaters and that with more education, many of the issues already mentioned could be resolved without changing the speed limit.
Those for the lower speed limit testified that powerboats have wreaked havoc on Middle River for those with sail boats while also causing damage to area marinas and beaches.
Jay Haskin owns a 35-foot sailboat and has boated along Middle River since 1977. He testified he fell out of his boat and broke two ribs while docked at Bowleys Marina and blamed a wake from a powerboat for his injuries.
Fellow Middle Rive boater Paul Rachinsky said lowering the speed limit would improve water conditions for all boaters.
“The amount of time to sail or power through the area designated for the lower speed limit would amount to ten minutes,” he testified. “This is not a hardship. We are on the water for recreational purposes; that's an extra 10 minutes you can spend on the water. It's not a lot to ask.”
Those who disagree with the Committee's decision may appeal the decision in writing to the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, Tawes State Office Building, 580 Taylor Ave E-4, Annapolis MD 21401.
Essex-Middle River Patch Editor Ron Snyder contributed to this story.