Battered boats and destroyed docks continue floating in Beaufort County’s waterways and marshlands nearly two months after Hurricane Matthew and the state plans to send a low-flying aircraft over the area to map the extent of the damage.
Despite a series of conversations over the past few weeks among county leaders and staff from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, and the S.C. Emergency Management Division, the parties have been unable to come to an agreement on who will clean up the marine mess.
“We didn’t get any real answers as to who is responsible for removing the debris,” county attorney Tom Keaveny said Monday.
“Is (it) the county that’s responsible? Is it DHEC? Is it DNR? We still don’t know,” he said. “There has been no commitment from anyone — no one standing up and saying we will do it or we will pay for it.”
“We take the position that it is either (DHEC’s or DNR’s) responsibility,” Keaveny said. “But so far, no one is stepping up to the plate.”
David Lucas of the DNR said Monday that the process is complicated by the fact that “there isn’t anything written down in terms who is responsible for what when it comes to (marine debris removal).”
The county’s debris removal contract with Ceres Environmental Services does not include removing debris from waterways.
Keaveny said that if marine debris removal ultimately falls to the county, it is unclear if the contract can be amended or if the county will have to go through the contract bidding process all over again.
Despite a lack of an agreement on cooperation for removing the marine debris, DNR will be helping the county get a grip on the magnitude of the problem.
Lucas said the agency will use “specialized aircraft” to “fly low and slow” over the county’s waterways and marshlands this week to take an inventory of large pieces of debris.
Keaveny said, “We have a lot issues facing us, but we need a comprehensive catalog of what’s out there.” The DNR flights will go a long way toward building that catalog, he said.
After the marine debris inventory gathering process, county officials “will probably be setting up another meeting with DNR and DHEC and their legal council” to again attempt to come to an agreement on clean-up responsibilities, Keaveny said.
That meeting could happen as soon as next week, he said.