Daydreamer started out as someone’s fantasy, as Bill Byam sees it. But over time, the sailboat has become just another piece of “marsh art.”
Throughout the past year, Daydreamer has moved around the Broad Creek like a pinball — anchored near Palmetto Bay at first, then stuck under the Cross Island Bridge after coming loose, then making its way down the creek, then banging into a Spanish Wells dock.
Eventually, the sailboat became stuck in the salt marsh, where it lies on its side today, filling up with mud and water every time the tide changes.
“The Daydreamer is beyond derelict; it’s a downright hazard,” Byam, a commercial captain on Hilton Head for more than 20 years, told The Island Packet.
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Since the destruction of the Palmetto Bay Marina during Hurricane Matthew last year, the number of boats moored in the Broad Creek has nearly doubled. And the process to eliminate dangers posed by these boats could take at least several months to amend, if they’re amended at all.
“I’ve been running boats up and down there for years, starting in 1985, and there’s far more clutter and congestion than before,” said Richard Inglis, director of Haig Point transportation. “What we’re observing is an apparent and real lack of attention to the boats that seem to have just been left there after the storm.”
Concerns from Inglis and Byam include safety issues such as navigating around the boats, residential boaters crashing into boats that aren’t properly anchored and the possibility of boats sinking and posing an environmental danger.
“Some of the boats have inboard engines and of course those engines have oil in the crank case and probably have fuel in fuel tanks. If they sink, that would be a pollution issue,” Byam said. “I want to bring attention to (these boats), because if we end up with a big spill there, some people would have some serious egg on their face if they continue to ignore it.”
‘Anything is an improvement’
In response to a letter Byam sent to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources on Monday, Lt. Michael Paul Thomas went out on the Broad Creek to take a look at the situation.
He counted 30 boats — with a mix of local and out-of-state registrations.
Out of the 30 boats, about half have proper lighting, Thomas said. The rest either have no lighting at all or lighting that does not meet Coast Guard’s 360 degrees of lighting requirement.
Boats that don’t block navigation in the waterway and that have proper registration and lighting are legally allowed to anchor in the creek. A handful of boats, however, do not fit that description.
Asked why DNR started addressing the issue a year after Matthew, Thomas said the process of cleaning up marine debris and abandoned boats “never really stopped since Matthew,” and that working with Beaufort County to clean up the debris after the hurricane “really tied us up.”
Since Monday, an investigator at DNR has been assigned to the project and is attempting to figure out which boats have owners that are willing to get their boat in compliance and which boats have been abandoned.
From there, the legal process would take at least three months to rule a boat abandoned.
“It’s hard to determine (which ones may be abandoned),” Thomas said. “Even if they may look derelict, someone could be in the process of repairing it or selling it to a friends who’s interested in rehabbing it. That’s why we have to go through such a thorough process”
Byam and Inglis have seen the issue expand over the past year but are happy to hear that a department is finally looking into the matter.
“It’s not a solution, but at least someone up the ladder is saying it’s an important enough issue to pay attention to,” Byam said. “Anything is an improvement over doing nothing or saying its not our responsibility.”
In the meantime, concerns about the boats still linger.
The Haig Point ferry, for instance, runs 30 trips through the creek each day, many times in low visibility.
“From a safety standpoint, we’d like to see some assurance that they’re being tended to, so that when weather is bad and we’re operating in that area, the boats are going to stay where they’re anchored,” Inglis said. “I’m less worried about our boats going and hitting one floating around in there than recreational boats that could hit a boat and really cause an accident and injure boaters.”
No funding mechanism in place
At the end of the months-long legal process, if a boat is declared abandoned and no one steps up to claim it and remove it, it could remain there for years, Thomas said.
“It’s always the owner’s responsibility,” Thomas said. “Once a boat is deemed abandoned, we don’t move them.”
At this time, no funding mechanism is available for local or state agencies to remove a boat once it is deemed abandoned.
“All parties involved want these boats gone, but there’s a statutory process that we have to get through and then another process begins to secure funding to get them removed,” Thomas said. “This process not only involves municipalities and counties we’re dealing with, but DHEC, NOAA and other agencies who are all trying to secure funding for this, but none to date have been made available to remove abandoned boats.”
In 2009, the City of Charleston used a state grant and some city matching funds to remove a dozen abandoned boats from its waterways.
Brian Hulbert, Town of Hilton Head Island’s staff attorney, said he couldn’t comment on the prospect of Hilton Head trying to find grant money to remove the abandoned boats.
Instead, Hulbert said, “It’s the town’s position that this is a state responsibility or individual owner responsibility.”
As for how long it will take DNR to get the abandoned boats out of the creek, Thomas said he doesn’t have a good estimate.