Hopes rise again for beached boat owners at Palmetto Bay Marina, who say an adjacent property owner has changed his mind and will allow a crane to remove their stranded vessels.
Weeks of setbacks have been a frustration for the owners, many of whom lived on their boats before Hurricane Matthew pushed their floating homes onto the muddy marsh surrounding the Hilton Head Island marina, where they have been stuck.
“It has been a roller coaster,” said Matthew Leitner, a boat owner who camped for about a month at the site, when contacted Monday. “At one point we think they are coming out; then we think something else is going to happen.”
The most recent holdup came when an adjacent property owner, Keith Miller, refused access for a crane on his vacant lot.
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But boat owners and a contractor who offered to donate the cost of removing the boats are now saying Miller recently changed his mind about allowing access for the crane.
“This is going to be it,” Leitner said. “This is going to be the ‘third time’s the charm.’ I want to thank Keith Miller for the change of heart.”
Miller told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette last month that he was not going to allow the crane. He refused then to give a reason.
On Monday, Miller didn’t want to comment.
“I’m not going to comment at this point because it seems what I say can be taken out of context,” Miller told the newspapers.
Leitner and Clifton Catron, spokesperson for Florida-based Big’Um Decks N’ Docks, said Miller agreed to the crane, and work is already underway to set up a process to remove the boats.
About 12 boats, once docked at the now-demolished marina, are beached.
Catron said many of the boats have been abandoned, noting that four owners have been identified. He said his company is covering only the cost of removing the boats.
A timeline for when the boats will be removed is still unknown, Catron said.
The plan is to use a crane to pull the boats out of the marsh and set them in a mobile boat cradle for inspection, Catron said. If the boats are able to float, they will be placed back in the water. If not, they will be moved to another location for repair.
Once the boats are out, owners still have a long road ahead, including repairing damages, Leitner said. Owners also are updating their boats to be more energy-independent because there is no longer a power source at the marina, he said. Some owners, for example, are equipping their boats with solar panels.
Boats that already have been freed from the debris have been anchoring in Broad Creek, and those owners are using small boats to get to shore, Leitner said.
Doug James, the marina’s immediate past owner who is acting as a consultant for the business, previously said it could take a year to rebuild half the marina and two years before it is fully operational.
Those who want to help the boat owners recover their costs can visit the Go Fund Me page at Palmetto Bay Relief Fund.