Sections of the May River might soon be calmer if a request by the town of Bluffton for a no-wake zone is approved.
Just less than a year after town officials said residents didn't need the town's support to ask the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to establish a no-wake zone, the town will make a request of its own. Bluffton officials are set to ask for a 1,000-foot corridor centered around the public landing at the Bluffton Oyster Co. on Wharf Street.
Town Council members chose that zone over proposals for two larger areas at their meeting Tuesday. One proposal, for a zone 2,300 feet long, would have stretched from the Oyster Company to the public dock at Calhoun Street, a zone Dyane Lee and other Water Street residents suggested to council last August.
Although council members said the no-wake plan would make waters around the widely-used landings safer, Lee was disappointed to hear it wouldn't stretch to the public landing at the end of Calhoun Street.
"It doesn't help the people with private docks between the Oyster Factory and Calhoun Street," she said.
Lee's dock falls within that stretch. In 2012, she was thrown from the dock and into her boat by a large wake. Countless other times, Lee has had to brace herself as boats sped past, she said.
Lee and her neighbors first brought their concerns to town council a year ago Wednesday.
In Sept. 2013, the town staff told Lee it didn't need the town's support to make a no-wake zone request to DNR. Lee said she contacted DNR soon after, but was told that the agency didn't have enough officers to enforce the no-wake zone.
"Maybe they have the manpower now," she said.
However, the town made implementing a no-wake zone on the river a top priority in their 2014 strategic plan, Stormwater Management Department director Kim Jones said. Jones presented the three proposals at Tuesday's council meeting -- the 1,000-foot section council eventually approved, a 2,300-foot-long zone and a 3,700-foot-long zone that would have encompassed the town's entire waterfront.
How far the no-wake zone will stretch into the water is unclear. Jones said she believed the zone would cover the water from riverbank to riverbank.The town also discussed a no-wake zone request in 2008, but a "cumbersome" process requiring legislative action halted that, Jones said in September.
If approved, any officer from DNR, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office or the Bluffton Police Department could enforce the no-wake zone, but the officer would have to catch a boater in the act.
However, approval of the no-wake zone isn't a guarantee. DNR spokesman Capt. Robert McCullough said the agency gets no-wake requests daily, but few are approved. On Tuesday, both Jones and Mayor Lisa Sulka acknowledged it's possible the town's request would be denied or modified.
When DNR receives a request, an investigator assesses the area to see if there is a need for a zone, McCullough said. Factors like traffic, channel size, depth, and the size ofboat wakes are taken into account.
Nonetheless, council members agreed action needed to be taken around the Oyster Factory landing. Councilman and Bluffton Oyster Co. owner Larry Toomer said a no-wake zone would protect boaters entering or exiting at the landing from other boaters "hot-rodding" into the nearby sandbar at more than 40 mph.
"There are some unbelievable antics that take place out there," Councilman Ted Huffman said.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.