Recent complaints about commercial use of Beaufort County's boat landings are nothing new for the county.
Complaints in 2006 prompted new, clearer rules for companies operating at the landings.
County officials need to determine whether or how much of a problem exists today, focusing on the relatively new landing on Broad Creek near the Cross Island Parkway bridge. A public landing on the south end of Hilton Head, particularly this time of year, is going to attract a lot of commercial users, especially when it saves them money.
It should be noted that commercial operators can use the landings within certain guidelines. The question is whether commercial operators are violating the rules. If they are not and the county still determines there is a problem, particularly for the landings' recreational users, then County Council needs to revisit the rules. If there are potential liability issues to address, the county should do so. Additional regulation of companies that operate from county-owned landings might be in order.
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The stated purpose of the ordinance is clear: "County docks and landings are maintained by the county for the purposes of public access for fishing and boating; loading and unloading passengers, supplies, boats and boating gear; and for similar purposes. It is the policy of the county to maintain and regulate such facilities in a manner that will permit the greatest public use and avoid continuous occupancy, congestion or blocking thereof."
If they haven't already, county staff should go to the Cross Island landing and see exactly what's happening and enforce the rules if necessary. For example, money isn't supposed to change hands at landings; someone needs to make sure that's the case. Councilman Rick Caporale, who represents part of Hilton Head, pointed out that it was hard to know what's going on without witnessing it. He suggested stationing deputies at the docks to learn more.
"It probably wouldn't take long to sort out the issues or identify the culprits," Caporale said.
Commercial users -- and one would think that would include watersports and kayak tour operators -- are supposed to manage their launching and unloading operations so that other people wanting to use the landing don't have to wait more than 15 minutes.
Parking may be the biggest problem, and the hardest one to solve. Space is limited at the landings; trucks and trailers take up a lot of that space, whether they are commercial or private. Customers coming and going every two hours or so for tours can tie up a lot of spaces, too.
Whether these companies have an unfair advantage over competitors who operate out of marinas is a separate issue. The county, so far, has said commercial use is OK as long as it doesn't interfere with the general public's use of the landings. That should continue to be the goal.