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Editorials represent the institutional view of the newspaper. They are written and edited by the editorial staff, which operates separately from the news department. Editorial writers are not involved in newsroom operations.

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Editorial: Hold owners of boats accountable,especially if vessels are underwater

Folly targets wrecks (copy)

A double-masted boat sits abandoned at low tide Friday on the bank of a creek that feeds into the Folly River.

Few forms of litter are as difficult to deal with as wrecked boats sitting semi-submerged in shallow local waters. They create an eyesore and often discharge fuel, sewage and other pollutants.

That’s why we’re pleased to see Folly Beach take a new tack on this old problem by trying to prevent it from happening in the first place. The city now is requiring boaters to get a permit to anchor their watercraft overnight within Folly’s limits, according to The Post and Courier’s Shamira McCray. To get a 60-day permit, a boater needs proof of ownership, insurance and a current state or Coast Guard registration. They also must provide a contact number.

“I think the only real requirement is that you have somebody that can respond to the vessel within 24 hours, or, if a hurricane comes, I think it’s four hours,” Folly Beach Public Safety Director Andrew Gilreath told Ms. McCray. “That way, if we have a big storm coming or the boat is starting to sink, we can get somebody here to actually fix that before it ends up sunken on the bottom.”

Folly also is limiting where in the city’s jurisdiction boats can be anchored. Under the ordinance passed last month, mooring or anchoring no longer will be allowed within a mile of any public boat landing or bridge — or within 100 feet of another legally anchored vessel or a private dock, unless the owner gives written permission.

The recent changes already are reportedly making a difference, and the city’s popular waterways appear less crowded. “One of the things we’ve run into over the years is boats breaking free of the mooring and hitting the (Folly River) bridge,” Mr. Gilreath told Ms. McCray. “We’ve had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars removing vessels that have sunk or just derelict in the marsh.”

The Coast Guard acts only when a wreck poses a threat to navigation; otherwise, owners must take care of it. And if they don’t, local governments eventually do, but it’s a time-consuming job that takes at least three months for the paperwork to clear, and then there’s the expense of refloating or otherwise removing the boat.

Folly is far from the only local municipality that has wrestled with abandoned watercraft. Last year, the city of Charleston had just removed several wrecked boats in and around the harbor when Hurricane Dorian delivered a fresh batch of about a dozen more. Since there’s no dedicated funding for removing wrecked boats, they can remain in place for what seems like an eternity.

We’ve previously urged state lawmakers to tack a fee onto boat registrations or allow counties to set aside a portion of personal property taxes on boats to create a fund the removing wrecked or abandoned vessels. Even with Folly Beach’s move, that remains a good idea.

The state also should make it easier for cities to cut through red tape so they can remove these vessels more quickly; the state could even require boaters to have liability insurance in case their vessels sink. New state Rep. Spencer Wetmore, who helped write Folly’s new ordinance in her former role as its city administrator, says she will monitor the ordinance’s impact and try to give local governments more tools to address derelict boats before they become abandoned.

Owning a boat can be one of life’s great joys, but the end of that relationship shouldn’t create a costly headache for others.

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