Owners of two boats that ran aground in a creek on Hilton Head Island have been ordered to remove them within 30 days, or the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control will have them removed.
But some residents are concerned the vessels will fall apart before the process is completed.
The captain of the Port Royal-based Lady Essie was trying to tow the Dianie from a dock at the end of Cora Lee Lane on Aug. 14 when the boats ran aground. DHEC notified the owners of the Lady Essie and the Dianie on Aug. 21 that their boats must be removed, agency spokesman Jim Beasley said.
The owners have at least 30 days from the date they receive the order to take action before a boat can be considered abandoned. Beasley said boats are considered abandoned if they are no longer functional for their primary purpose or if repair or salvage is not being pursued.
However, some are worried the boats will begin to fall apart before the 30-day period ends, particularly the Lady Essie.
"Every day, more and more parts of the boat are falling off and floating into the marsh," Wes Breinich said. "The Lady Essie is disintegrating into the marsh. Why not do something about it before it becomes a bigger problem?"
Beasley said regulations under the Coastal Tidelands and Wetlands Act require the boat owners to have at least 30 days to take action, and DHEC has no authority to act sooner if the owner of a vessel has been identified.
During the period, any cleanup in the creek would be the responsibility of the boat owners, he said.
Breinich said he contacted DHEC and the Hilton Head Town Council to try to accelerate the removal process. Breinich said he proposed erecting barriers around the boats to catch debris.
"We're branded as an environmentally friendly town," he said, "yet they're just going to sit there and wait for these boats to fall apart because that's what it says? Are they going to go into the marsh and fish out the debris falling off the boat? It makes no sense."
Breinich said timbers from the boats, a foam mattress, and assorted trash like plastic bottles were some of the items found falling from the boat. Breinich said he contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, which told him its involvement in the situation had ended.
Charleston Sector Lt. Cmdr. Derek Beatty said the Coast Guard was finished with the case after it removed oil and fuel from the boats a few days after they ran aground.
Beatty said the company that drained the boats checked the tanks early last week and found them empty. Beatty added that the company removed flotation devices, to prevent the possibility that they could break loose and raise a false alarm for a missing boat or person.
The Coast Guard could get involved again if the boats block the channel and become a navigation hazard, he said.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.