Two shrimp boats that have been stuck in Jarvis Creek since August are being dismantled and removed.
The Town of Hilton Head Island will pay R.L. Morrison & Sons Inc. more than $157,000 from reserves for the work, which began Tuesday and is expected to be completed in 40 days.
Believing it had waited long enough -- and with little confidence the owners could afford to remove the boats -- Town Council chose to have the vessels removed at taxpayer expense.
As of Thursday morning, about two-thirds of the Lady Essie had been removed from the water by crane and placed onto a barge, town public-projects and facilities director Scott Liggett said.
The contractor has deployed a silt curtain and oil boom around the work site to catch floating debris and residual fuel, oil and transmission fluid that might leak from the boats. The U.S. Coast Guard emptied the boats' fuel tanks soon after they became stuck.
Workers have also used a small skiff at high tide to collect debris from the boats that has floated into the marsh.
State environmental regulators have approved the work.
Liggett said Morrison & Sons will haul pieces of the boat by barge for disposal in Charleston on Friday and return next week to resume work.
Nearby residents had pressured the town to remove the boats, believing state environmental officials have been too slow to act.
Aside from being an eyesore, council said, the boats posed an environmental hazard and impediment to safe navigation of the creek.
Island kayak tour guide Mark Palmerlee said he has pulled a small refrigerator, shrimp baskets, a table, cabinets, foam insulation and wood from the water.
Liggett said the town has also received reports of people using the boats "as an amusement, tying up to them and jumping off them."
The town declared the boats a public nuisance this fall.
"You have a personal-safety, environmental and navigational threat," Liggett said.
Joseph Wright of Hilton Head and Essie Lambert of Savannah had until Dec. 17 to remove the boats or pay a $1,800 fine that increases $100 for each additional day the boats remain in the creek.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control initially ordered Wright, owner of the Dianie, and Lambert, owner of the Lady Essie, to remove the boats Aug. 21. That gave them 30 days to begin removing or salvaging the vessels. That deadline passed with no action by the owners. The department issued new orders that took effect Dec. 2, giving them another 15 days.
Lambert's husband and Lady Essie captain, James Murray, has said he and his wife were eager to get the boat out of the creek but do not have the money to do so.
Several attempts to reach Wright for comment have been unsuccessful.
Liggett said it's unlikely the town will be reimbursed by Lambert and Wright. Town officials also say they know of no state or federal funds that might pay for the work.
The vessels became stuck Aug. 14 when Murray tried to tow the Dianie from a dock at the end of Cora Lee Lane.
Murray said he was unfamiliar with the creek and the shallow areas, and he ran aground as he was trying to leave the creek.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.