BEAUFORT — Town commissioners tabled a decision Monday that would have required owners of boats anchored in Taylors Creek, Gallants Channel and Town Creek Basin to register their vessels with the Beaufort Police Department and remove them prior to the arrival of a hurricane or tropical storm.
The purpose of the ordinance is to prevent the boats from pulling anchor during storms and crashing into other vessels or docks.
But despite the town’s best intentions, the proposal received mainly negative comments from boaters who attended the town board’s regular monthly meeting, held in the train depot on Broad Street. On a motion by Commissioner John Hagle, the town decided to recess the meeting until 4 p.m. Aug. 28, where the item will return for discussion.
The ordinance states that the owner of a vessel anchored in one of those three areas is required to remove it within 12 hours following the issuance of a hurricane watch or warning. If the owner has not removed the vessel within the time period, the ordinance would give the mayor authority to direct the Beaufort Police Department to remove it. If the police department cannot arrange to have the vessel removed from the water, it would have the authority to tow it to another body of water and anchor it in a manner that, should it become detached from its mooring, wouldn’t harm other property.
The owner would have to pay any costs incurred by the town for towing and storing to get the vessel back.
The ordinance also requires all vessels anchored in Taylors Creek, Gallants Channel and Town Creek Basin for more than 48 hours to be registered with the police department within 12 hours of entry into the waterway. This would give the police department a means to contact the owner to notify them they have to move prior to the arrival of a hurricane. The department would also be able to affix a notice to a vessel if officers cannot directly reach the owner.
Vessels anchored in the waterways must have a minimum of $50,000 liability insurance coverage, which is required to complete registration.
The registration requirements would only apply between June 1 and Nov. 30 each year. Violators of the ordinance could be fined up to $500 a day.
Mayor Richard Stanley said he suggested the town come up with a proposal a few weeks ago. Currently, the mayor said, the town has no idea who even owns some of the vessels in those waterways.
Some boats in Taylors Creek are without engines and appear inoperable, while several boats in Town Creek are partly submerged.
Town attorney Neil Whitford said the commissioners might have to change language in the ordinance regarding Town Creek, as part of it is a Harbor of Refuge. He suggested adding another section that exempted vessels in Town Creek as long as they are properly secured.
But boaters in attendance weren’t behind the proposal. Ryan Neve, who serves on the town’s planning board, said he can understand the motivation behind the ordinance, but aspects of it, he added, “seem unworkable or maybe shortsighted.”
He said the registration requirements would come off as unfriendly for a town that depends on tourism, equating it to making drivers show their car insurance, and questioned where people should move their boats.
He suggested the town instead regulate moorings where vessels could be secured, which Mr. Stanley said was the town’s ultimate goal.
Doug Doubleday, a town resident who serves as the chairman of the planning board, said he had not previously heard about the ordinance and couldn’t believe what was being proposed. “It’s almost like I’m in a dream,” he said.
He agreed with the points made by Mr. Neve and said boaters were more concerned about their vessels than the town because, for many, it’s their home.
“It would be perceived as very unfriendly by boaters,” he said.
He also said that if a boat like the Wolf, a 74-foot schooner that visited the town during the Beaufort Pirate Invasion, was given 15 hours to move due to a hurricane, it wouldn’t have anywhere to go.
Commissioner Charles McDonald also questioned whether the police department would be able to fulfill the ordinance’s requirements. Police Chief Steve Lewis said he would likely require more manpower and training. “It would put some stress on us,” he said.
Town manager Charles Burgess added that a private contractor would likely assist.
But the ordinance wasn’t without its fans. Steve Tulevich said he has been the owner/operator of Town Creek Marina for 16 years and during that time has lived through 18 named storms. “I’ve been through a lot and seen a lot,” he said, adding that when Hurricane Bonnie hit the county in 1998, he videotaped 14 boats that had pulled anchor and washed up on shore.
“It is a serious problem and it needs to be addressed, and I think this is a start,” Mr. Tulevich said.
Capt. Lee Sykes, the owner of TowBoatUS, also said the town had to take action. “All this is is structure,” Capt. Sykes said. The problem, he said, is not so much with transient boaters, but with “local” boats that are anchored in the waterways.
Capt. Horatio Sinbad, one of the town’s more recognized boaters, also attended the meeting and said he was shocked by the proposal. “I’m just aghast,” he said.
“This is a marine community,” he told commissioners. “I need you to think on that very, very carefully.”
Capt. Sinbad said the town should instead go after the people whose vessels have sunk and been abandoned in the waterways. Capt. Sykes said his company is offering its services to remove submerged boats free of charge.
Commissioner Ann Carter said she had some “real problems” with the proposal, especially the registration requirement, as she believed it would scare people away.
Rather than intimidating visiting boaters, she said the town should address those boats that are in the waterways permanently.
Mr. Stanley, however, said the town hasn’t been able to find the owners of some of those boats.
Mr. McDonald made a motion to table the item indefinitely so it could be studied further, and Ms. Carter agreed. “We need to let the boating community have some input in this,” she said.
But as the hurricane season reaches its peak, others on the board wanted to see some kind of action taken before the next storm strikes. “This is not something that can wait,” said Mr. Stanley. He asked Mr. McDonald to amend his motion to table it until Aug. 28, but the commissioner wouldn’t do so. The motion then failed 2-3, with Mr. McDonald and Ms. Carter voting in favor and commissioners Marianna Hollinshed, John Hagle and Robert Campbell voting against.
Mr. Hagle then made a motion to bring it back to the board on Aug. 28, which passed unanimously. The board created a small committee, which included Mr. Doubleday, Mr. Neve, Mr. Tulevich, Capt. Sykes and Capt. Sinbad, to discuss options before commissioners pick up the issue again.
Mr. Stanley urged those involved to come up with a solution. “As you can see, there is a problem when you have boats out there you can’t get in touch with,” he said. “We face this (issue) year after year after year. That’s the problem we’re trying to resolve.