Palmetto Bay Marina boat owners whose vessels were beached by Hurricane Matthew watched their hopes roll away with the supermoon tides late last week, only to regain their optimism and lose it all over again this week.
As Matthew Leitner grasped the reality that hours of digging in the mud for days wasn’t enough to free his floating home, he said he was approached by a stranger willing to cover the costs of removing not only his boat, but 12 others that had washed ashore at the Hilton Head Island marina.
Yet, as quickly as the offer came, the plan was put to a halt by an adjacent property owner unwilling to cooperate. Permission was needed from the property owner to place a crane on the land.
Keith Miller, owner of the property, told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette on Tuesday that he would not allow the crane at the site.
When asked why, he replied, “I don’t have to give a reason why”.
The response has confused boat owners and the Florida-based company, Big’Um Decks n’ Docks, offering to pay for the service.
“It is disheartening,” Leitner said. “How do you say ‘no’ to someone who is trying to help the community? This isn’t just for us; this is for all the people in the condos who have to look at this. Seeing this every day is depressing.”
The boats were washed ashore during Hurricane Matthew, which destroyed the marina. Leitner and four other boat owners camped on the land for about a month following the Oct. 8 storm.
Leitner and others say none of the remaining boats had insurance, leaving the burden of costs to free and repair the boats fully on the owners. He has estimated costs could exceed $15,000 to remove and repair his boat.
Late last week, Clifton Catron, a sales representative with Big’Um Decks n’ Docks, approached Leitner offering to cover the costs of a crane.
“We have a history working on the East Coast,” Catron siad. “We wanted to give back to the community.”
The company planned for a crane to sit on land adjacent to the shore, Catron said. He said the crane would lift the boats out of the muddy marsh, sit them in a mobile boat cradle for inspection, and then put them back in the water, if they were able to float.
If the boats couldn’t float, they would be removed to another location for repair, Catron said.
Catron said not having access to the land is frustrating.
“Even though my company is willing to pay for everything and everyone is willing sign waivers, he (the property owner) still refused,” Catron said. “I fully expected to have people back in the water and in their homes for Thanksgiving.”
Instead, Leitner and others who lived on the boats have been dispersed — many living on friends’ couches.
Donna Hardin finally gave up and rented an apartment. She had been living in a boat in the marina for about a year. The restaurant server, who first moved to the island at the age of 11, said she misses the water.
“I have trouble sleeping because I want to rock to sleep,” Hardin said.
The only other option to get Hardin and others back into their floating homes is to use a barge with a crane, Catron said. He said calls have been made to companies in the area, but all are tied up with other recovery operations on the coast.
Although more than a month has passed since the hurricane, Hardin said she still hopes for a solution.
“It has been a back-and-forth,” she said. “I want to be positive. I really know in my heart something will happen.”