A contractor says he is willing to break the law to remove stranded boats at Palmetto Bay Marina, while the state is threatening jail time and fines for owners if the vessels aren’t moved soon.
Clifton Catron, spokesperson for Florida-based Big’Um Decks N’ Docks, said Wednesday he is tired of waiting for clearance to place a crane on a vacant piece of land adjacent to the muddy marsh on Hilton Head Island where about a dozen boats are trapped.
“We are going to sign the paperwork on a crane, and we are scheduling a date,” said Catron, who doesn’t own the vacant land. “That crane is still going in there, and I am helping these people out. If there is a ticket to be written, you can write it in my name.”
The cost for the crane will be covered by Big’Um Decks N’ Docks, Catron said. He said the boats would be removed soon but didn’t have a specific timeline.
“The pressure was on when Thanksgiving rolled around, and I didn’t help them; then Christmas rolled around,” Catron said.
Keith Miller, owner of the vacant property, said Wednesday that sensitive issues not related to the boats keep him from giving approval to allow the crane on the land.
“It is an unfortunate situation for everyone involved,” Miller said.
Catron talked passionately about freeing the boats, which were blown ashore when Hurricane Matthew hit on Oct. 8, as he sat among mariners at the coincidentally named Black Marlin Hurricane Bar on Wednesday night. The mariners were using the space to plan an upcoming fundraising event.
Across the parking lot, S.C. Department of Natural Resource officers secured orange signs to the boats as the sun set over the marsh. The signs are a warning that the boats are considered abandoned and must be moved. Under state law, a watercraft isn’t considered abandoned if the owner claims it within 45 days after the notice is posted.
Robert McCullough, DNR spokesman, said owners have 45 to 90 days to remove their boats depending on the circumstances. If the boats are not moved, owners face a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 or a jail sentence of up to 30 days, or both, if convicted of the misdemeanor.
Under state law, boats identified by DNR as abandoned for at least 90 days may be claimed by any person or entity as abandoned property.
For the past three months, a handful of owners who lived on the boats have been desperately working to free them from the marsh.
“I am under stress everyday I see my boat leaning on its side,” said Matthew Leitner, one of the owners who lived on his boat before the storm. “I don’t have enough friends to pick up a 10-ton boat and walk it out to the water.”
Leitner has become a spokesman for the group as he often was there to greet media, other boat owners and gawkers in the first month after the storm while he camped by his boat.
It’s how Christine DeLong first met Leitner. She said that, on her way to work following Hurricane Matthew, she passed the marina and was devastated by the destruction.
“I am a mariner,” DeLong said. “We are a breed of people. I found myself crying. I couldn’t work, so I drove back to the marina. As I pulled up, there stood Matthew, and I asked him, ‘How can I help?’ ”
“He said, ‘I have a buddy coming every day to bring me a sandwich; I don’t need any help,’ ” she recalled.
DeLong said she didn’t accept that answer. So she filled her car with supplies and set up the Palmetto Bay Marina Relief Fund — a nonprofit organization raising money for all boat owners at the marina affected by the hurricane.
A GoFundMe page was set up for the organization at www.gofundme.com/Palmetto-BayMarinaReliefFund. The organization also will be holding an oyster roast and silent auction on Feb. 18 from 4 to 10 p.m. at the Black Marlin Restaurant.