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Should Bluffton establish no-wake zone on May River?

File: Blufftonian Dyane Lee demonstrates how she had to brace herself in order to keep from falling off her dock when the wake from a speeding boat hit it in this file photograph from August 2013.
File: Blufftonian Dyane Lee demonstrates how she had to brace herself in order to keep from falling off her dock when the wake from a speeding boat hit it in this file photograph from August 2013. jkarr@islandpacket.com

A group of Bluffton neighbors are hoping the third time's a charm when it comes to getting a no-wake zone established on the May River near the town's historic district.

Twice before, the Waters Street neighbors have lobbied the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to slow down boats near their homes. And -- despite support from town officials -- twice over the past two years they have been rebuffed.

Kent Collins, who speaks for the neighbors, brought the issue before a town committee on river issues last week in hopes of drumming up support to reapply to the state for a no-wake zone stretching roughly from the Calhoun Street public dock to Oyster Factory Park.

Town councilman and Bluffton Oyster Company owner Larry Toomer said he has "push(ed) for (a no-wake zone) because it's a safety issue," due to boaters speeding through the area as others are entering and exiting the river.

"If somebody gets killed or hurt, maybe (DNR) will see it differently," Toomer said.

Wake from large boats is "not only creating a public safety problem, but they are also eroding oyster beds and the marsh," Toomer said.

The state investigates a host of criteria before establishing a no-wake zone, channel size, boat traffic and water depth, among them, DNR spokesman Capt. Robert McCullough said.

So far, the portion of the May River in question has not been determined to meet that criteria.

"(DNR investigators) don't believe that the safety concerns we have cited justify the rationale for the zone. They didn't recognize the ecological concerns we had as well," Collins said.

McCullough said he couldn't comment on the specifics of the Bluffton no-wake zone application, but said the state gets dozens of such applications every year.

"If we approved all of the applications, there would be pretty much no place where wake would be permitted," he said.

Collins said conversations with DNR officials have left him feeling "cautiously optimistic" that a no-wake zone could be established when the town's Oyster Factory Park improvement project wraps up early next year.

The town's May River Watershed Action Plan Advisory Committee plans to hear a more formal presentation on the no-wake zone proposal in January prior to issuing a formal recommendation to the full council on the issue.

A positive recommendation could pave the way for the town council to again apply to the state on behalf of the neighbors.

Follow reporter Lucas High on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Lucas.

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