Crabber worries new Shem Creek park will endanger livelihood

Commercial fisherman Kenneth Ezell leases dock space on Shem Creek for his boat from Mt. Pleasant, and will have to vacate when work begins on new docks in January. He is concerned that he will not be able to return once the work is completed.

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Commercial fisherman Kenneth Ezell worries that a planned new public park will cause him to lose his livelihood.

Ezell docks his 38-foot boat, Easy Lady, at town docks on Shem Creek, but officials have told him he must be gone by Jan. 2, when construction begins on a $2 million creek park.

Ezell said he has a verbal agreement for temporary dock space at another location across the creek. He's concerned about being able to return to the town-owned docks when the park project is finished.

He said that he doesn't know his future because the town has not established criteria for how it will select fishing boats allowed to moor on the creek at its new docks.

"What are the stipulations for coming back?" he said.

Ezell said crabbing for a living allows him a flexible schedule that fits his family. He drives his wife to work because she has a prosthetic eye. If he can't tie up on the creek, he said he might as well sell the boat.

"Charleston Harbor is her home," he said.

Crabbers are territorial. If he moved to other waters, his traps would be damaged by others who don't want him there because of the competition, he said.

Easy Lady has worked out of the creek for 30 years. Ezell bought the boat about five years ago, and he has established a niche for himself in the harbor.

"The Easy Lady is part of the story of Shem Creek," he said.

On Monday, Town Council's Bids and Purchases Committee is scheduled to pick a contractor for the creek project from among seven bidders.

Council purchased the property in 2008 for $6 million. It sits on more than 40 acres of mostly marsh. The park begins at a half-acre of high ground just off Coleman Boulevard known as the former OK Tire site next to the Shem Creek bridge.

From there, more than 1,000 feet of boardwalk would connect to a hummock island and then on to the creekfront docks. A commercial fishing dock and a town dock center are in the plan. The idea behind the park is to give the public access to the creek. Otherwise, a creekfront view requires a visit to a restaurant, inn or bar.

Through its generosity, council allowed commercial fishermen to continue to dock at town property for a nominal fee, said Town Administrator Eric DeMoura.

Three commercial boats remain at the town docks acquired as part of the Shem Creek purchase. Ezell said his boat is the only working vessel.

DeMoura said the boat owners were given 45 days' notice that they would be required to move. They tied up at the docks under the terms of a lease that does not guarantee that they will be able to return there, he said.

The town plans to allow six commercial fishing vessels to moor at the new docks. "Whether he is selected as one of those folks, I can't answer that," DeMoura said.

No selection process is yet in place to determine who gets to use the docks, he said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711