MOUNT PLEASANT — When the Wando Seafood dock went up for sale last summer, the potential loss of one of the last shrimp docks on picturesque Shem Creek was a problem for Mount Pleasant.

Now it's the town's to own.

Mount Pleasant just bought the 1-acre, dry land property along with 350 feet of dock for $4,350,060 from local builder Brett Elrod.

The town's purchase quiets nearly a year of public concern and speculation for the dock's immediate future.

As properties go, though, the Wando dock is a fixer-upper, and town officials say they could still sell it for development if they can't transform the site into a public-private commercial facility.  

Elrod's estimate of repairs needed around the property and dockhouse is in the $300,000 to $400,000 range. But the town has different risk-management standards, he said. His estimates didn't include dock maintenance or upgrades.

The dock itself "does its job for the shrimpers," he said. But "it's tired. It needs a little love."

Renovations to the dockhouse might be a higher priority for the town than the dock, Mayor Will Haynie said.

"The town had ample information during a lengthy due diligence process in order to go into this with our eyes wide open. The needs of the dock itself were no surprise going in," Haynie said.

In some ways, the Wando dock is invaluable, a point town officials made before the purchase. Before the town took over, the dock was one of the creek's last three privately owned shrimp boat docks. It moors about half the remaining boats in the Shem Creek fleet. Losing it to development could have meant those boats had nowhere else to tie off, much less sell their shrimp.

It also could have put more development pressure on the owners of the other two docks.

Town Councilman Tom O'Rourke called the dock property an investment capable of providing the town with revenue from leases, as well as accruing real estate value.

For now the town plans to continue leasing the dockhouse to Tarvin Seafood, a business that includes selling shrimp, and also is looking at leasing to an ice vendor to replace a closed-down vendor that supplied shrimpers the ice they need, O'Rourke said.

For Mount Pleasant, Shem Creek is a marquee destination — the place where the shrimp boat fleet is a treasured part of history and the hanging shrimp nets are what tourists and diners come to see. But commercial fishing docks are disappearing across the state because of development pressures on the lucrative waterfront properties.

The creek has become a mix of upscale residences, waterfront restaurants and water sports businesses, edging out the shrimp boats — all of it making big contributions to the town's economy.

Elrod stepped in in August, paying for an option on the property so he could buy time to figure out what to do with it, hoping to work out an arrangement with the town to keep it operating as a shrimp dock. 

He put the property under contract to buy it for $3.8 million.

Elrod isn't walking away with as much money as it might appear. He has 12 months worth of fees to pay to two attorneys, he said, along with fees for engineering and environmental assessments, interest to his lenders and other costs.

"I don't think I'm going to lose money. I'm hoping I'll come out on the positive," he said.

The dock could still be sold, he concedes. But he's confident the various public interests pushing to save it and the advisory boards guiding the town's handling of the creek will keep its heritage intact.

"I feel the public is going to control what happens there to a large extent," he said.

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Reach Bo Petersen at @bopete on Twitter or 843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.

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