Beaufort City Councilman Mike Sutton has it right: Perhaps the city can give boat owners anchored in a bend in the Beaufort River more time to relocate, but sometime soon, they must go.
"Because whether it's 30 days, 90 days or a year, we will have a mooring field there at some point," Sutton said during a council meeting Jan. 14.
Many boat owners who have anchored or moored their vessels by the bluff on the river were notified that they must move by Feb. 10 or face fines of more than $1,000 a day. It's the next step in the city's attempt to operate a mooring field in the west of the Beaufort Downtown Marina, and it has some boat owners upset.
More than a dozen boats were anchored or moored in the river bend in mid-January. The Beaufort Downtown Marina operator, who will manage and help pay for the field, said it's not unusual for 40 or more to be found in that area at other times of year.
Many of those boat owners have been stationed in the area for years -- responsibly and legally, sometimes with permanent moorings of their own. As such, some deference to their situation is in order. Perhaps the deadline to move can be extended, or fines reduced or waived for those who demonstrate a good-faith effort to relocate.
The fact remains, however, that the city intends to create a mooring field with 16 buoys, and it has permits from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a field of as many as 46 buoys. And it intends to start construction between mid-March and mid-April.
The city adopted an ordinance Aug. 13, making it unlawful to anchor or moor within 200 feet of city-owned buoys in the Beaufort River "immediately west of the downtown marina without permission of authorization from the downtown marina operator."
The moorings have not been sunk yet, so no one is yet in violation of that rule or had a chance to challenge the ordinance's legality.
Whatever the case, the city has proceeded lawfully in its pursuit of the mooring field. That process has been conducted openly and included opportunities for public comment. No boat owner should be caught off guard.
Though they might return as paying customers in the new mooring field, sooner or later the boats and their owners must make way for construction.