To the motorist glancing at the Ashley River on his way to town, the problem of abandoned boats seems to have abated.
But experienced boaters know better. While there are fewer boats visible, lodged in the mud, taking on water and rusting, there are still boats under the surface that are leaking toxic chemicals and presenting danger to boaters who don’t know they are there.
The problem is the same as it was three years ago when 12 boats were removed from the Ashley, but a number remained:
While boat owners are legally responsible for the removal of such boats, those owners often make themselves scarce because they can’t afford or don’t want to spend the $15,000 or so to have a boat removed and dumped.
When owners can’t be identified, then local jurisdictions are generally responsible, and they too have trouble finding the funds in their already stretched budgets.
In 2011, the city of Charleston and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control were able to snag a $60,000 grant to clean up derelict boats. Twelve were removed from the Ashley.
It’s time for local and state agencies to look for some more funding sources. As long as the submerged and partly submerged boats present a danger, efforts to remove them should not let up.
Meanwhile, officials could be looking for low-cost ways to mitigate the problem of abandoned boats.
For example, boats that are in designated anchorages are not required to have working lights. That increases the risk of a boat running into a wreck.
Some boat owners who have all but abandoned boats moored elsewhere (where they are required by law to have working lights), strap on solar-powered garden lights. That would be a cheap way authorities could give boaters a heads-up about danger in anchorages, too.
For boats that are submerged altogether, a marker similar to what is used to designate a shoal could be used.
One way boat owners avoid the law is by removing identifying numbers from their crippled craft.
That might provide a partial solution: Since boaters are required to register their boats and display the identification numbers, perhaps authorities could board illegal, unmarked boats and check them out. If they can be moved before they sink or break loose and drift into other boats, the cost would be considerably less.
And the risk of leaking toxic chemicals, and incurring hefty penalties, would be less as well.
DHEC invites boaters to report what appear to be abandoned boats on a special web page.
Promoting that effort wouldn’t make the boats go away, but at least officials would have a better idea of where they are.
Authorities should consider eliminating designated anchorages, at least in the Ashley River. They tend to attract boats with owners who want to rid themselves of the headache.
South Carolina’s coastal and inland waters are an extraordinary asset for their beauty and the recreation they provide.
They should be protected as the treasures that they are, not allowed to be a receptacle for boats that are no longer wanted.