Despite concerns that its police department has few resources to enforce a new ordinance, Charleston has approved a new law prohibiting abandoned boats and outboard motors in public waters within city limits.
It's already against state law to abandon a boat in public waters or on public lands, under a two-month-old law, and some city officials would have preferred to leave the matter to the state.
"These are the state's waters and it's the state's responsibility," said Mayor Joe Riley, who said the city doesn't have the money to investigate, seize and store abandoned boats. He nonetheless voted for the new ordinance, which would not take effect until the last week of June.
Councilman Tim Mallard pressed for the new city ordinance at a meeting Tuesday.
"We're not putting any burden on the police department," Mallard said. "We are just trying to make it illegal."
Mallard hopes the city can plug a hole in the state's enforcement of the new abandoned boat law, perhaps by working with private salvage companies to remove abandoned boats when the owner cannot be determined.
The State Department of Natural Resources will try to identify abandoned boats and get the owners to move them but has no plan to address boats whose owners can't be identified.
"We'll send an officer out and try to find out whose boat it is," said Lt. Robert McCullough, spokesman for DNR's Law Enforcement Division. "If we can't identify it, then it's up to the city or county."
Mallard said abandoned boats are fouling marshes and the water with spilled oil and gasoline, and making the Lowcountry a less beautiful place.
"We've got to clean up these marshes," Mallard said.
So, how many abandoned boats are we talking about?
A survey of abandoned boats in the city limits by the DNR found between 10 and 15, according to Jane Borden, an attorney for the city.
Council members Gary White and Aubry Alexander voted against the ordinance Tuesday, and Councilwoman Deb Morinelli was absent.
Alexander said he thought the state law already covered the issue, and White agreed.