Owners of boats anchored and moored by the bluff on the Beaufort River are finding notices on their crafts ordering them to move by Feb. 10 or face fines of more than $1,000 a day.
It's the next step in the city's attempt to operate a mooring field in the bend of the river west of the Beaufort Downtown Marina, and it has some boat owners upset.
Boat owner Amberlee Pelkey, reading from a prepared statement, asked City Council at its meeting Tuesday to "allow those of us that take care of our boats and anchors to stay where we have been for decades."
Notices were issued Jan. 9 and placed on more than a dozen boats by the Beaufort Police Department, according to city staff. The letters inform owners that they do not have permission to be in the mooring field and they have 30 days to move the vessels. If not, a court summons will be issued, fines levied and the boat removed at the owner's expense, according to the letter.
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City Councilman Mike Sutton, who retired from the U.S. Coast Guard and is an avid boater, told Pelkey that 30 days does seem "shortsighted," and he hoped she could work with officials to find solutions.
"But at some point you need to be thinking about moving your boat to another location, because whether it's 30 days, 90 days or a year, we will have a mooring field there at some point," he said.
The city has received a permit from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to establish a mooring field of up to 46 buoys, although marina operator Rick Griffith said there will be only 16 to start.
Griffith said construction on the mooring field will begin in 60 to 90 days.
More than a dozen boats were anchored or moored in the river bend as of Friday, and Griffith has previously said up to 40 can be found in the area during May, June, October and November.
"We just want the folks to move their boats," he said. "They're in a permitted mooring field."
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 provided by the city.
That would cover improvements to the existing marina and the installment of the 16 mooring buoys.
According to city code adopted Aug. 13, it is unlawful to anchor or moor within 200 feet of city-owned buoys in the Beaufort River "immediately west of the downtown marina without permission of authorization from the downtown marina operator."
Pelkey argues the city has not sunk moorings yet, so she and others are not violating the 200-foot rule.
Pelkey is one of several boat owners with permanent moorings, which Griffith said would have to be removed by the owners if they want to keep them.
Pelkey said many other boat owners are not happy about the notices. She said some might not have seen them if they haven't been to their boat recently.
But Griffith said at least one boat owner has contacted him and supports the change.
Griffith said he will work with any owners who want to pay to use the city's moorings, once they are installed. Charges have not been determined, but he is finding mooring in other locations averages $25 a day and $200 to $250 a month.
It's not clear where boats that could not be accommodated in the field would go. S.C. Department of Natural Resources officials have said the only requirements are that boats must have lights, be properly registered and not impede waterways.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.