Wednesday, August 15, 2012

From the House

Bluffton Today

As always, when I ask for feedback, we get prepared for the consequences. The combination of Sunday’s front-page BT article and the column made for an interesting week of constituent contact. We got over 300 contacts and the phones and email are still burning. Suffice to say that many of our calls were from folks with bad stories to tell. There were stories of damaged docks, damaged boats, near-death situations on the water, and the whole gamut of complaint having to do with bad behavior on the water. In truth, the level of anger over the lack of courtesy from boaters was a little unsettling.

On the other side, we heard from a fair number of people who didn’t relish the idea of possibly being ticketed or inconvenienced for being on video doing that which they probably knew they shouldn’t be doing anyway. I suppose it’s the old tree falling in the woods question, except now it’s more like “if I do something out of sight of law enforcement, did it really happen?” It is a peculiar line of reasoning but buried in there someplace is a point.

The anger and the back and forth over whether cameras are a fair tool for law enforcement is exactly why I asked for your take on the situation. The truth is, when we make law out of anger, it is rarely good law. We don’t think it through. It is all about the emotion of the moment. My thinking is we should hash it out in the paper, at the Squat and Gobble, or over a rib plate at Bluffton Barbeque. Sometimes you just have to get mad when the other folks’ bad behavior seems to be the normal mode of acting. When the anger subsides, then we will make a good faith effort of come up with a solution that is fair, even-handed, and doesn’t feel like the government is putting the hammer down. My fear is that probably sooner than later, there will be an avoidable tragedy, someone will be hurt or killed, and then the calls for action will be as irrational as they are unstoppable. The resulting laws and subsequent enforcement will likely be an overreaction that will remove much of the joy of a day on the water for all, whether they are habitual violators or careful, courteous boaters who wouldn’t dream of tearing up a neighbor’s dock with an errant wake.

I have said before that the bulk of this problem is about visitors and newcomers. One of the rites of passage for my children and for many Bluffton folks was that first time at the helm of the family boat. Whether your boat is an aluminum jonboat with an ancient Evinrude, or one of the big, offshore fishing machines, we as parents enjoy the teachable moments that come from those beginnings of individual responsibility in our children. Accountability is a lesson that most of us learned at a young age. If you don’t do your school work, maybe there is no baseball. If you rattle your neighbor’s dock, you turn around and apologize. Such has been the tradition along the May River, along the Colleton/Okatie, and all the estuarine rivers and creeks that are the jewels of the Lowcountry.

Unfortunately, there are ten times as many of us as there used to be. We don’t all share the same local traditions of courtesy and respect. So enough of the horror stories and anger, enough of the “big government” paranoia: Let’s figure this out together. What do we need to do to solve this problem before the solution gets caught up in a bad event? I need to hear from you. I will also share what I’m hearing from the good people in law enforcement.