Port Royal SC targets abandoned boats with new mooring rules

Using a new state law, the city of Port Royal is enforcing tough new mooring rules to keep abandoned boats away as it prepares to pour nearly $1 million into the construction of a new shrimp wharf.

City Council on Thursday unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance that requires a mooring permit and prohibits anchoring within a certain distance of public landing stages, bridges, private docks and marinas. The aim is to prevent boats from being abandoned and then clogging waterways, causing environmental damage and creating a cleanup bill for the public.

The ordinance, which has yet to be finally approved, also gives the city the power to impound and tow offending vessels and prohibits derelict and derelict boats, which the Department of Health and Environmental Control of the state called a “chronic problem in our coastal waters.”

“We’ve obviously seen a few examples of this, and we want to get out of it before it becomes a problem anymore,” city manager Van Willis said of the abandoned boats “left to rot in the water.”

For years the city has seen the problem at its shrimp docks where old boats have been abandoned. Several even sank, including an old shrimp boat in July.

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An abandoned, sunken boat is seen at low tide Wednesday September 21 in Battery Creek with buoys to alert boaters near the shrimp wharf in the town of Port Royal. Drew Martin [email protected]

Last spring, in preparation for tearing up its aging shrimp dock on Battery Creek and building a new one, the city set an April 15 deadline for owners to move their boats. A sailboat and a shrimp boat still remain attached to the dock and will need to be removed, along with two sunken ships.

Willis also pointed to abandoned boats cluttering the Charleston Marina as an example of the problem.

The city, Councilman Kevin Phillips said, spent “a good chunk of change” cleaning up the situation at the docks.

“I think it’s great when you can be proactive about issues,” Phillips said of the order.

The state of Florida has strict boat laws, Willis said, which has also led to a migration of derelict boats along the coast.

The city of Port Royal, Willis said, is among the first in South Carolina to enact stricter rules under a state law passed in 2021. It was introduced by state Rep. Spencer Wetmore , D-Charleston, who saw the problem of abandoned boats first. hand as administrator of Folly Beach.

“It just allows local governments to take a tough stance on docking,” Wetmore said.

The idea, Wetmore said, is to catch the owners before they abandon the boats.

“You couldn’t throw your car on the side of I-26,” Wetmore said. “Why would you be able to cast your boat over to Port Royal Sound?”

The cost to the public of the removal of the boats – and the environmental damage – is considerable, she noted, and it is not an isolated problem. Folly Beach, she said, had retired about 30 boats before adopting new rules.

Since 2004, DHEC has worked with federal, state and local partners to leverage the removal of more than 100 derelict vessels from coastal waterways stretching from Horry County to Hilton Head.

In addition to harming fragile marshland habitat, DHEC said, derelict ships pose a recreational hazard and a “visual plague on the landscape”.

Work on the new shrimp wharf will begin as soon as all boats leave, Willis said.

In 2021, lawmakers earmarked $900,000 for the redevelopment of the city-run shrimp wharf in Port Royal, where seafood processing operations were suspended last year after years of financial losses. The city plans to partner with a third party to build and operate a new facility that would process seafood caught by operating shrimp boat owners who use the new wharf.

The city has an additional $600,000 in escrow from an insurance settlement after a 2015 fire destroyed a seafood market and shrimp packing equipment.

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A shrimp and a sailfish are the only remaining vessels at the town of Port Royal’s shrimp wharf on Battery Creek. The city plans to replace the aging wharf with a new one after the abandoned and sunken boats are removed. Drew Martin [email protected]

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Karl Puckett covers the town of Beaufort, the town of Port Royal and other communities north of the Broad River for The Beaufort Gazette and Island Packet. The Minnesota native has also worked at newspapers in his home state of Alaska, Wisconsin and Montana.

Earnest A. Martinez