Volunteers work to remove abandoned boats from Intracoastal Waterway

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 7:03 PM EST
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NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - On the shores of waterways in the Grand Strand, boats and other debris from watercraft lie left behind in the water.

But they’re not forgotten by a Charleston-based nonprofit. With the help of local businesses and the U.S. Coast Guard, these long-abandoned boats are being removed from Horry County.

The nonprofit said the problematic vessels can’t be sunk to be made into artificial reefs.

“Most boats these days are fiberglass, or some form of fiberglass wood mix composite,” said Whit Jones, the organization’s operations director for South Carolina. “You have fuel, you have oils, you have batteries, and all these other toxins, so it’s just an environmental hazard.”

That’s why they need to be removed, but the organization can’t do it on its own.

A barge commandeered by Black Water Dredging & Recovery ambled down the Intracoastal Waterway from Little River to North Myrtle Beach on Wednesday. Atop its surface sat a backhoe with the purpose of gathering up a sailboat left aside the shoreline.

“I was born and raised here, and giving back to the environment, cleaning up everything - we have the capability to do it, so we figured why not help and be a part of it,” said Brox Baxley, owner and operator of the dredging company. “I have a little boy, and I want him to be able to enjoy the waterway when he gets older also.”

The team towed one sailboat in the morning and crushed up another in the afternoon, placing it on the barge for it to end up in a donated dumpster to make its way to a landfill.

“We see [abandoned boats] everywhere - or, we did,” said Baxley.

Organizers with Wounded Nature - Working Veterans estimated after Wednesday, more than 20 boats have been removed from Horry County, and they’re getting approval to remove one more. Across the East Coast, that number of successful removals reaches more than 100.

“We’re actually just flabbergasted and so pleased, that we’re actually getting - every boat on this county that was on the list, is coming out,” Jones said.

Wounded Nature - Working Veterans estimates there are 120 boats across South Carolina that still need to be removed. The U.S. Coast Guard keeps a tally of the boats’ locations and coordinates with the nonprofit for their approved removal.

Jones said it’s been an ongoing problem that needs more resources from the government.

“We believe the state needs appropriated dollars to address all the coastal counties,” Jones said. “It’ll be an initial investment to get through the backlog, but after today and a couple more outliers, Horry County’s going to be clear, thanks to Black Water. But it shouldn’t be on private companies to have to donate to do this.”

Jones is a retired member of the U.S. Army, serving more than 25 years. After flying Apache helicopters, he said being on boats in coastal waters is the closest thing to flying for him.

“No day’s ever the same, so I kind of like that aspect of it, too. Because we never kind of know what we’re going to do, and every boat comes out different - they all put up a fight,” Jones said. “So it’s fun to try to figure out the challenge of the boat and what it’s going to take to get it out. But we always win.”

Jones said they will continue to look to grow and expand their reach in other states.

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