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Complaint lodged against Lake Norman charter boat operator

The Lake Norman Marine Commission has filed a complaint against a Cornelius man the commission says has been operating a charter boat without a permit.

Cliff Champion, whose N 2 Deep charter boat is berthed at All Seasons Marina off Langtree Road in southern Iredell County, faces up to a $500 fine if convicted in Iredell County District Court. Champion’s first court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 7.

The case is the first time the commission has filed a complaint against a charter boat operator since enacting its charter boat ordinance in 2002, executive director Ron Shoultz said.

Shoultz said the commission has received “hundreds of reports” about Champion taking out groups of people on his boat since he lost his charter permit in June 2012. The commission revoked his permit because Champion didn’t have a place to park his boat at the time, Shoultz said.

In October 2012, the Iredell County Board of Adjustment granted All Seasons Marina a permit to house a charter boat, despite neighbors saying drunken people disembarking N 2 Deep were urinating in their bushes. Residents testified they’ve contended with loud noise from parties on the boat and beer cans strewn about Langtree Road, off Interstate 77 Exit 31 north of Davidson.

The board cited, in part, a letter to Duke Energy from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that such boats are allowed at about a dozen Lake Norman marinas, including All Seasons. Duke Energy manages the lake under federal license.

But the Lake Norman Marine Commission also must approve a permit for Champion to operate his boat at the marina, and Champion hasn’t applied for the permit, Shoultz said.

Champion’s two-level charter boat can accommodate up to 140 guests and 10 staff members, although cruises typically average 70 guests and crew, a Huntersville-based consultant for the marina told the Zoning Board of Adjustment before the board granted the marina a permit last year. N 2 Deep is 18 feet wide and 86.8 feet long.

The commission’s charter boat ordinance requires that boats have life jackets for every passenger, required insurance, proof of a successful annual inspection, and a qualified captain aboard. A captain must hold a valid U.S. Coast Guard master’s license.

Shoultz said the commission lacked the proof to file a complaint against Champion until it obtained a copy of a contract he signed with a woman who wanted to host a wedding reception on his boat. The commission also obtained a copy of the $500 check that Champion took as payment for the event, Shoultz said.

The woman who signed the contract with Champion decided against using Champion after learning his boat lacked the required operating permit from the commission, Shoultz said.

Champion said he couldn’t comment on the complaint because he hasn’t been served with court papers. “I really don’t know anything about it,” he said.

Mecklenburg County court records also show that Champion and his wife, Valerie, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection on Dec. 13. Chapter 13 allows individuals to undergo a financial reorganization supervised by a federal bankruptcy court.

Links to 2008 fatal explosion

Champion’s charter excursions have drawn previous government attention.

In 2008, the N.C. Department of Labor fined Champion’s Cornelius-based Championship Yacht Charters and Westport Marina in Denver, N.C., in an explosion that killed a worker.

Nathan Coppick, 19, was killed while refueling the Championship II charter at Westport Marina. Investigators said a spark ignited fuel, causing the explosion.

The Labor Department issued three “serious” and three “non-serious” violations totaling $1,750 in fines against the marina, and two “serious” violations totaling $2,800 against Championship Yacht Charters.

The marina’s serious violations included having improper gasoline-dispensing nozzles and improper electrical equipment and wiring.

Championship’s serious violations included failing to shut off motors during fueling and failing to make sure everyone except the person fueling the boat was away from it.

In April, a Lincoln County jury took only 50 minutes to issue a $1.5 million judgment against a Denver company that supplied a fuel nozzle that caused the explosion. Jurors said they unanimously agreed that Petroleum Equipment and Service had knowingly put people in danger by installing a piece of equipment that the state said was illegal to use at marinas.

Lawsuits against Westport Marina and Champion’s charter boat company were previously settled out of court. Staff researcher Maria David contributed.

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