Imagine a dozen abandoned cars and trucks littering the emergency lanes of a major Lowcountry highway, some rusting, gradually shedding glass and rubber onto the roadway, others poking precariously into traffic. People would protest, officials would take action and the cars would be quickly removed — at the owners’ expense if at all possible.
But when boats are abandoned in Lowcountry waterways, it can take years before they are removed. That means years of unsightly, dangerous, polluting boats left deteriorating in rivers, creeks and marshes.
Fortunately, about 10 such boats are about to be dumped where they belong — in a landfill.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control recently awarded the city of Charleston a $104,000 grant, which along with $30,000 in matching city funds, will be used to clear derelict and abandoned boats from the Ashley River.
It can cost more than $10,000 to remove a single boat, depending on its size, level of deterioration and whether or not it is submerged. Watercraft owners are required by state law to pay removal costs or face fines and possible jail time, but it can be difficult to track owners who strip identifying information before abandoning a boat.
Galveston County, Texas, addressed the problem by offering to dispose of unwanted or unusable boats for free if owners delivered them to a drop-off point, avoiding costly recovery by private salvage companies. Other municipalities have tried implementing programs to cover a substantial portion of removal costs if owners approach local officials for help. Both plans are worth exploring to help the Charleston area address a perennial problem.
Even if the DHEC grant money allows 10 boats to be safely disposed of, there will still be maybe five more abandoned boats left in the Ashley River. And even if all of the boats were removed, others would inevitably appear when irresponsible owners decide to ditch them because of the cost of repairs or when an accident leaves a boat inoperable.
Mount Pleasant, Folly Beach and other Lowcountry municipalities have also used public funds in recent years to clear abandoned boats.
As noted, it is the legal responsibility of boat owners to remove derelict boats at their own expense. Even so, encouraging owners to share a portion of the public cost to tow, store and dispose of their boats could ultimately be a big cost savings.
For now, it’s worth cheering the fact that the Ashley River will soon be a cleaner, safer and more attractive waterway thanks to state and city efforts.