Town may remove boats stuck in Hilton Head creek

tbarton@islandpacket.comDecember 19, 2013 

shrimpboat

The shrimp boat Dianie, as photographed by the Town of Hilton Head Island when it sought bids to remove it and another boat, as it rests abandoned in Jarvis Creek off Hilton Head.

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Another deadline has come and gone for the owners of two shrimp boats stranded in Jarvis Creek off Hilton Head Island, says the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Now, the Town of Hilton Head Island might get involved.

Joseph Wright of Hilton Head Island and Essie Lambert of Savannah had until Tuesday to remove the boats or pay a $1,800 fine that increases $100 a day for each additional day the boats remain in the creek.

Believing it has waited long enough, and with little confidence the owners have the means to remove the boats on their own, the town hopes to step in.

Town Council directed staff Tuesday to negotiate agreements with the owners to take ownership of the boats and remove them at a cost of an estimated $175,000.

DHEC initially ordered Wright, owner of the Dianie, and Lambert, owner of the Lady Essie, to remove the boats Aug. 21. That gave them 30 days to begin removing or salvaging the vessels. That deadline passed with no action by the owners. The department issued new orders that took effect Dec. 2, giving them another 15 days.

"The next step in the administrative process would be to file an action in Circuit Court to have the orders enforced," DHEC spokeswoman Lindsey Evans wrote in an email. The department has yet to decide whether it will, Evans said.

Lambert's husband and Lady Essie captain, James Murray, said Thursday he would welcome the town's assistance. Murray said he and his wife are eager to get the boat out of the creek but do not have the money to do so.

"No one is sadder to see the boat there than me," Murray said. "That's my livelihood, and it's gone. That was my career. That's all I had. I lost everything and won't get it back, because I didn't have insurance on the boat. I'm poor and broke and can't afford to do anything.

"I've been trying to get them out since they got stuck, but it's a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of money to get them out, which is something I don't have."

Murray, who said he has been shrimping for about 50 years, said he has not worked since the boats ran aground in August.

An attempt Thursday to reach Wright was unsuccessful.

The vessels became stuck Aug. 14 when Murray tried to tow the Dianie from a dock at the end of Cora Lee Lane.

Murray said he was unfamiliar with the creek and the shallow areas, and he ran aground as he was trying to leave the creek.

He said the Lady Essie then began to list as the tide went out. The boat came to rest on its side. As the tide came back in, the Essie became partially submerged.

"I was just trying to help somebody else and it got me all messed up," Murray said.

The town received five proposals in November from marine contractors for the disposal job.

Assuming it can reach agreements with the owners, removal would begin in January and be completed by mid-March, Scott Liggett, town director of public projects told council.

He said it's unlikey the town would be reimbursed for it costs. No state money is available and would not be used in cases where the owner of the vessels have been identified, Evans wrote.

Liggett said he's also unaware of any available federal funds.

"While our letters requesting owners consent to remove the boats indicate that the owners are liable for the cost of removal, I don't think they have the wherewithall to pay the town back," Liggett said.

The money would come from the town's general operating and capital improvements budget. Staff is still deciding what spending would need to be delayed to pay for removal.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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