The boats you see stranded along the roadway during your commute aren’t going away soon, but someone is working on it.
A state investigator is trying to determine the owners of about 20 boats in Beaufort County displaced by Hurricane Matthew in October, Department of Natural Resources Lt. Michael Paul Thomas said Monday. That doesn’t include concentrated areas like the boats pushed around at Palmetto Bay Marina on Hilton Head, he said.
The stranded boats include several tossed along Sea Island Parkway from Factory Creek, greeting motorists coming and going from Lady’s Island the past two months.
Before the vessels can be removed, the owners have to be properly notified and given enough time to respond. The process can be slowed by clouded titles.
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“Nobody wants the boats gone more than we do, but we want to make sure we do it in a proper manner,” Thomas said.
Search for an owner typically ends in one of three results, Thomas said:
▪ The owner is aware of the stranded boat and waiting on the right tide, money or equipment to move it.
▪ The boat is insured and the owner waiting to resolve the claim.
▪ An owner can’t be found and an abandonment process begins.
If the boat is declared abandoned, certified letters are sent to the most recent titled owners. A public notice is posted for 45 days, and then the owners is allowed 45 days to respond.
Salvage companies and residents expressed interest in removing the boats themselves if they are declared abandoned, Thomas said. The work could otherwise be contracted out and might eventually be covered by federal emergency funds.
The boats are only part of the debris DNR documented during an aerial survey of Beaufort County waters. The survey captured pilings, sections of dock and other trash the storm left in the county’s creeks and sounds.
DNR is working with Beaufort County on its application for federal emergency funds to remove large debris in the water.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency requires proper notice to the boat owners before they can be removed. The county, DNR and state Department of Health and Environmental Control will then agree on who is responsible for removing the boats, deputy county administrator Josh Gruber said.
Since the abandoned boats and debris are below the average high water mark, they are technically state property, Gruber noted.
The Lady’s Island boats are thrown up in the bank near Factory Creek, just over the Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge from downtown Beaufort.
Lady’s Island Marina manager Steve Stanforth said all but one of the boats appeared to have already been abandoned before the storm. Only one is probably seaworthy, he said.
The marina’s owner, Kelly Ryan, worked unsuccessfully in the past to have the boats removed, Stanforth said.
Stanforth cruised for more than three decades and said people who abandon boats reflect poorly on other cruisers who stay a while and move on.
“Hundreds of boats come in and anchor and leave and come spend their money in Beaufort and move on,” Stanforth said. “And that’s what we want, it’s a great way of life.
“Then there’s the bad apples that just abandon boats.”