Lottery may decide fate of docking crabbers, shrimpers

Workers for Salmons Dredging on Monday build part of the foundation for a new boardwalk at Mount Pleasant's $2 million Shem Creek park, which is expected to open in August.

MOUNT PLEASANT -- An annual lottery is being considered as a method for picking shrimpers and crabbers who will get to moor at the town's new Shem Creek docks.

A Town Council committee on Monday recommended approval of the yearly drawing.

Council wants to spotlight and promote commercial fishing by offering dock space at the town's new $2 million public park slated to open in August, Town Administrator Eric DeMoura said.

"I think it's important for everyone in the commercial fishing industry to have a chance to dock up there," DeMoura said.

If they choose, fishermen will be able to sell their catch directly to the public on a small island that is part of the park, he said.

The yearly lottery would be held Feb. 1, and winners would be eligible for a 12-month lease. The town envisions providing commercial dock space for four shrimp boats and two crab boats. Monthly rent would be $5 per linear foot.

The full council, which meets on April 12, must approve the lottery.

Some fishermen didn't think much of the idea.

"I don't really agree with that at all," shrimper Mark Richard said. "It just sounds like at any given time they're going to pull the plug on the shrimp boats."

Richard said he docks his boat at Wando Shrimp Co. Although more dock space is a good thing, a year-to-year lease with no guarantee of renewal is too dicey for a long-term business, he said.

"I don't want to mess up what I have, so I'm going to stay put," he said.

To qualify for the lottery, a shrimper must have a town business license, a current U.S. Coast Guard safety inspection and the boat must be locally owned.

The commercial dock will have electricity, running water, a lift for unloading catch and a "Gator" for moving it off the docks.

The town bought the old docks and tore them down to make way for its park.

Commercial crabber Kenneth Ezell tied up at the old dock but said he won't be returning.

"I'm looking for stability in a business. I just don't think I want to fool with the town of Mount Pleasant anymore," he said.

Ezell was at odds with the town because he could not get a written guarantee from officials that he could tie up at its new docks. He found other dock space at a nearby restaurant.

The park will have more than 1,000 feet of 10-foot-wide boardwalk through the marsh and on the creekfront down to Charleston Harbor. There will be a floating dock where recreational boaters can tie-up for the day.

A water taxi company has asked for space to operate at the park, DeMoura said.

"It's going to be exciting," he said of the project.

On Monday, workers for Salmons Dredging were building the foundation for the commercial docks.

The park begins just off Coleman Boulevard at the site of the old OK Tire Store near the parking lot for restaurants and inns on the Charleston side of the creek. From there, a long boardwalk stretching for hundreds of feet curves through the marsh to a hummock island, where the boardwalk then branches one way to the commercial docks and another way to the public boardwalk down to the harbor.

The project will provide a first-of-its-kind place for public enjoyment of an undeveloped section of Shem Creek, which otherwise is lined with commercial establishments such as restaurants, bars and inns.

The town paid $6 million for the property.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711