Jet ski rental company hopes latest lawsuit will end Wrightsville Beach’s legal claims

Mangum has hired a new law firm to represent him and he’s hoping to put the threat of arrest, simply for going to work, behind him.
Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 5:08 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Chris Mangum runs a successful jet ski rental business and has for nearly 25 years. His customers meet him at the Wrightsville Beach boat launch ramp located under the bridge heading onto the island. But for the last eight years, Mangum has faced threats of lawsuits, jail time, and citations from the Town of Wrightsville Beach.

Despite facing losses in court, Mangum has hired a new law firm to represent him and he’s hoping to put the threat of arrest, simply for going to work, behind him.

“It’s time for this to end and hopefully, we’re gonna go the cordial route right now,” Mangum said.

Mangum first received citations for using the boat launch in 2015 when the town told him he was in violation with the Unified Development Ordinance. The town said he was not operating within the town’s zoning regulations and would need permission to use the ramps.

While the town does have the ability to control zoning and businesses within town limits, the boat launch is not town property, but state property.

The town’s own Unified Development Ordinance at the time read, “In accordance with NC General Statutes 160A-392, the Town of Wrightsville Beach UDO applies to state-owned lands only when a building is involved.”

There are no buildings on the property.

Since the ramps are the state’s land, they are open to public whether they are operating a business or launching a boat for their own personal use.

“All of our Boating Access Areas are open to the public 24/7 and anyone is allowed to launch from these sites, assuming they follow the regulation posted on our website...,” NC Wildlife Resources Commission Communications Specialist Ryan Kennemur said in an email to Port City Daily several years ago.

“That being said, jet ski rental companies can use the ramp. Since the Wrightsville Beach property is owned wholly by Wildlife Commission, the town has no jurisdiction at this BAA,” Kennemur added.

Still, the town has maintained Mangum was operating outside of the town’s regulations and eventually took him to court and had a judge sign off on a consent order -- an agreement that said Mangum would not be allowed to use the ramps for his rentals.

“We’re going back in and basically asserting and arguing that the town did not originally have authority to hire outside counsel through their own Unified Development Ordinance,” Lanier said.

Although Mangum continues to use the boat ramps, he says the threat of contempt of court is still something that worries him every day -- and says he needs to make a living regardless of the town’s position on jet skis.

“It’s absolutely no fun to go to work every single day, during the summer, knowing that you go to jail the following day. That is very stressful, is time consuming,” Mangum said.

As for his continued operation, Mangum said he’s not happy about it but also believes in the end his right to use the ramp -- and the town’s authority to restrict the public use of the ramp give him the right to continue.

“I am not proud to be going against a court order but it’s obviously a void order. You cannot have a judgment hanging over someone’s head when you have zero jurisdiction,” he said.

“I’m taking the stand, I’m not going to back down, I’m gonna be positive about it and hopefully the town or Wrightsville Beach will right its wrongs,” Mangum said.

The Town of Wrightsville Beach’s Town Manager Tim Owens has not responded for an interview request or statement regarding the town’s position on the newest developments, however, in the past town staff refrained from discussing pending lawsuits.