Town: Bluffton residents can make no-wake zone requests on their own

dburley@islandpacket.comSeptember 10, 2013 

Residents looking to calm busy May River waters will have to do so without help from the town of Bluffton.

Town staff said at a meeting Tuesday night that residents don't need town support to ask the S.C Department of Natural Resources to establish a no-wake zone from the Calhoun Street public dock to the Bluffton Oyster Co.

Anyone can make a such a request, said Kim Jones, director of the town's stormwater management division.

The state agency gives every request the same weight, whether it comes from a municipality or an individual, DNR spokesman Robert McCullough said in an interview earlier Tuesday.

But some residents still want the town's endorsement.

"We figure if the town is behind it, it will be easier to deal with DNR," said Dyane Lee, whose family has a dock on the river.

Lee, Kent Collins and other residents said they sent Mayor Lisa Sulka a letter Tuesday asking for such an endorsement before going to DNR.

Sulka said Tuesday evening she hadn't seen the letter, but supported the residents making the request on their own.

"If each request is looked at the same, then there's no reason to stir the pot," she said. "For every 10 people who want a no-wake zone, I've got 10 more who don't."

At council's Aug. 13 meeting, some riverside residents complained of boaters zooming by, creating large wakes that shake docks and make the river unsafe for other boaters and swimmers.

Town council had previously discussed a no-wake zone request in 2008, when it listed establishing such zones at the Alljoy Boat Landing and at the Bluffton Oyster Co. as one of 11 priorities in its Waterbody Management Plan, according to meeting documents.

At that time, creating a such a zone was a "cumbersome process requiring legislative action and Department of Natural Resources review," Jones wrote.

Those procedures have changed, she said Tuesday.

DNR considers a variety of criteria -- channel size, boat traffic and water depth among them.

When a request is received, a DNR investigator evaluates the area at high and low tides. A determination might be made within eight weeks, he said.

If approved, an officer from the DNR, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office or Bluffton Police Department could enforce the zone.

The agency received 44 requests last year, and three were granted. The DNR's McCullough said that while the agency receives many requests for the zones, it can't "no-wake everything."

There are 233 such zones in the state, including 29 in Beaufort County.

Anyone wishing to make a no-wake zone request can call DNR: 803-309-5599.

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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