After waiting nearly a year, a group of Hilton Head Island residents are taking it upon themselves to clean up boats that were abandoned in the Broad Creek.
After Hurricane Matthew destroyed Palmetto Bay Marina last year, the number of boats moored in the Broad Creek nearly doubled. The legal process to deem the boats abandoned only started a couple weeks ago and will take months to complete.
On Saturday, three residents who live on the Broad Creek, Russell Patterson, Curt Hennessey and Joe Short, decided to get the removal process started themselves.
“We’ve been going on hoping the owners would take responsibility for their own boats, but it became very obvious that no one was going to do anything,” Patterson said. “The town is not in the position to do anything, DNR is not in the position to do anything, so we decided to go forward on our own.”
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The three men spent about four hours pumping Daydreamer — one of the abandoned sailboats — out at low tide, pulling it off the oyster bank and towing it to Patterson’s dock.
Daydreamer has spent the past few months floating up and down the waterway, before finally getting stuck on an oyster bed and tipping onto its side.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources tracked down the owner of Daydreamer, who lives in Florida and agreed to send Patterson the sailboat’s title. Once Patterson receives the title, he plans to pull Daydreamer out of the water at the Palmetto Bay Yacht Center and recycle all the metal before demolishing the sailboat.
“We spend millions of dollars each year to get tourists down here, and then to see people abandoning boats and using the main waterway of Hilton Head Island as a Dumpster is really hard to take,” Patterson said.
Earlier this month, the DNR assessed the situation and created a file for 30 boats moored in the waterway. An investigator at the department has been assigned to the project and is attempting to find the owners of each boat and determine which owners are willing to bring their boats into compliance or not.
Unfortunately, once a boat is deemed abandoned, there is no funding mechanism in place at any state or local agency to remove abandoned boats.
If the owner of an abandoned boat is willing to let go of their title, then DNR will work with a person or municipality to transfer the title to their name.
That’s where Patterson, Hennessey and Short come into the picture.
Once work on the Daydreamer is completed, they hope to acquire the titles for the other two sunken boats in the Broad Creek and hire a professional diver to help raise and remove those.
Then, phase three of their plan would be to take over the titles for any of the boats deemed abandoned in the creek and remove those before they sink too.
“We’re going to be limited with three guys and not a lot of equipment for the operation,” Short said. “But we got (Daydreamer) off, so we’re hoping to continue. ... Nobody is trying to make money off of this. We’re just trying to keep the waterway safe and the environment safe.”
The project has turned into a real group effort.
Eric Smith, owner of the Palmetto Bay Yacht Center, has agreed to haul the sailboats out of the water and dispose of them for a reduced rate; Madison Elliot, owner of Southern Metals Recycling in Savannah, has offered to help the group recycle the metal from the sailboats; and the investigator at DNR said he plans to keep the group informed as various boats are deemed abandoned.
The two sunken boats have been underwater for nearly two years and are not in a condition to be salvaged and resold. DNR officers also advised the group not to try and resell the floating abandoned boats because the new owners may let the boats sit there again until they eventually sink, Patterson said.
The three men are working with The Hilton Head Reef Foundation, a nonprofit subsidiary of the Hilton Head Island Sportfishing Club, to raise money for the hiring a professional diver for the two sunken vessels, as well as the disposal costs of the boats.
“We want to keep the Broad Creek as pristine and natural as possible, so if the public can help with donating a little money then we don’t have to deal with the bureaucracy or waiting for grants,” Patterson said. “We’re not worried about spending some of our own money and lots of time and effort on this but we need some help.
“We’re just trying to get stuff done.”
Want to help clean up the Broad Creek?
Donations can made to the Hilton Head Reef Foundation through the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry or by mailing a check to the Hilton Head Reef foundation, c/o Russell P Patterson, P.O. Box 8047, Hilton Head Island, S.C.
If you have any questions, you can contact Russell Patterson at Russell@russellpattersonlaw.com