Time is almost up for owners of boats moored and anchored for free by the bluff of the Beaufort River.
Monday is the end of a 30-day period allotted by the city of Beaufort for owners to move their vessels or agree to pay for a spot in the new mooring field. The mooring field is to be built this spring. The boats occupy the site of the field and will be in the way of the project
About 13 boats remained in the river bend Friday.
What will happen if they're still there Monday?
"We have no idea," city manager Scott Dadson said.
City officials will see how many boats remain and then decide how to proceed, Dadson added.
City officials have said they hope to entice more boaters traveling the Intracoastal Waterway to visit Beaufort. The city has permission from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a mooring field with up to 46 buoys, although Beaufort Downtown Marina operator Rick Griffin said there will be only 16 to start.
Beaufort has a $100,000 federal grant for the field, and Griffin, who has a contract with the city to manage the marina, is paying an additional $33,000. The city would kick in about $29,600, according to grant documents.
That would cover improvements to the marina and the installment of the 16 mooring buoys.
However, that number could increase.
Dadson said city staff will recommend that City Council increase the city's contribution by about $35,000 to add as many moorings as that will buy. He wasn't sure Friday how many that would be. Getting the heavy equipment needed to build the field is the most expensive part of the project, Dadson said; the price per mooring decreases as the number of moorings increase.
A permitted mooring field gives the city the right to control what boats are in the vicinity, city attorney Bill Harvey said. Among those rights is "clearing" anyone there without permission.
"Clearing is a relative term," he said. "You can clear it with letters; you can clear it by giving tickets; you can clear it by physically removing the boats."
However, removing the boats isn't as simple as hooking them up and hauling them out.
"Physically taking possession of the boats is something a municipality doesn't want to do, because then you have to have a place to put them and you are responsible for keeping them safe," Harvey said.
Dadson said he did not know where the city would store boats that are removed.
Fines are another possibility, according to notification letters placed on boats Jan. 9. Boats not moved could result in a court summons and fines of as much as $1,000 a day, they indicated.
Councilman Mike Sutton, who retired from the U.S. Coast Guard and is an avid boater, has been meeting with boat owners after one attended a City Council meeting Jan. 14 to protest the letter. He said he's trying to determine how much long-term mooring for residents is needed and how much they would pay for it.
"The question is, how do we incorporate the user we have now?" Sutton said. "... You can chase away people by making it so expensive you won't have anyone but certain people there."
Sutton said some boat owners are moving to other unrestricted areas like Factory Creek and by Port Royal. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources requires only that boats have lights, be properly registered and not impede waterways.
"And I expect there are some out there who won't move until a police boat shows up," Sutton said.
City Council is scheduled to discuss the mooring field Feb. 18, Dadson said.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.