Here we go again.
An Ohio man's boat, stuck in Gilbert Creek off the Chechessee River, has started to take on water and list to one side. Residents in Colleton River Plantation, with a view of the sinking boat from their waterfront homes, want it out of there.
Sound familiar? Last year, two shrimp trawlers became stuck in Jarvis Creek. Despite warnings and fines from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, the owners failed to remove their trawlers. One owner said he lacked the money to pay for the removal.
Meanwhile, the boats posed an increasing environmental risk, possibly affecting water quality as well as marine and plant life. And fears grew that the trawlers' deterioration would create navigational hazards for others maneuvering the creek.
Never miss a local story.
Ultimately, the Town of Hilton Head Island paid more than $157,000 to dismantle and haul away the public nuisances.
We've got our fingers crossed that the owner of this new public nuisance has the means to fix his boat up or have it removed. If not, local leaders must decide whether the vessel poses an adequate risk to spend public dollars to haul it away.
This continued trend of derelict boats in our waterways demands a better solution than the current wait-and-see game. While boat owners should be responsible for the care and maintenance of their vessels, that doesn't always happen. Then, waterways, taxpayers and local governments end up paying a price. Since 20004, DHEC has coordinated the removal of more than 90 derelict or abandoned vessels from the state's coastal waterways thanks to a mix of federal, state and local government dollars.
The agency's current count is that another 90 to 100 more are out there, rotting away.
Some of those in the Charleston area will soon be taken care of. DHEC is currently identifying vessels in the Charleston Harbor for removal, paid for by a federal grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Actual removals should get under way in early 2015.
No such event is planned for Beaufort County.
Such occasional haul-aways are inadequate, infrequent and lack statewide scope. State lawmakers should consider a small increase to the state's fees associated with boating or fishing to pay for regular rounds of removal. Other states are doing it. Rhode Island, for example, increased its boat registration fees in 2013 to support its Abandoned Boat Act, which allows for the removal and disposal of derelict vessels.
The idea is likely to get vetted here in South Carolina soon. In 2015, DHEC plans to reconvene a workgroup to discuss whether a dedicated funding source is needed for derelict boats.
The answer is a resounding yes. South Carolina should not keep treading water on this important issue.