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Friday, April 28, 2006 - Last Updated: 7:17 AM

Marinas earn flag of honor

9 in state recognized for pollution control


The Post and Courier

Nine marinas across the state, including two in the Lowcountry, were recognized Thursday as "Clean Marinas" for outstanding environmental performance.

Officials hope this relatively new designation, which allows marina owners to fly a "Clean Marina" flag and reap some financial benefits, will spread across the state.

South Carolina has no full-time inspector to investigate marina pollution, so officials with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said voluntary measures such as Clean Marinas can offer state waterways vital protection from oil, gasoline, solvents and sewage.

Locally, the Charleston Harbor and City marinas have been recognized as Clean Marinas. Charleston Harbor Manager Rand Pratt said the marina has stepped up measures.

"The biggest thing is pollution control," he said. "And when you're fueling boats in the water, you've always got the risk. So we've got thousands of dollars' worth of absorbents and products that actually soak fuel out of the water and even special diapers around the fueling nozzles."

Pratt said instead of relying on boaters to dump their wastewater tanks at a dockside facility, the state's largest marina also has purchased a pump boat that can empty the black water (sewage) tanks at any of the facility's 428 slips. He added that soon, every boat would likely be required to carry a "bilge sock" to absorb oils and waste from bilge water.

"We also recycle all fuel filters, batteries and oil, and have special containment procedures for all of that," he said.

Pratt and DHEC spokesman Dan Berger said that although compliance with the project is voluntary, recreational and transient boaters look for Clean Marina flags when choosing docking facilities. Clean Marinas are typically able to charge higher slip fees and can receive federal financial assistance for participating in the program.

"We're really hoping for a little bit of peer pressure from the Clean Marinas," Berger said, leading other facilities to follow suit.

DHEC officials said voluntary compliance with clean water efforts is crucial because South Carolina does not employ an inspector who can make regular visits to the state's roughly 75 coastal and 75 inland marinas. Berger added that adequately monitoring pollution is difficult at tidal or river marinas where the water never stays still.

DHEC Assistant Water Bureau Chief Sally Knowles said marina operators are required to meet extensive federal and state clean water criteria to obtain a license, but that regulators largely rely on the public or on coastal shellfish or beach water-quality monitoring officials to report spills or illegal pollution activity.

Records of pollution violations are kept by local offices, but DHEC does not keep records of individual offenses. Voluntary regulation efforts on the part of marina operators is the key, she said.

"If marina owners are abiding by their permits, then I wouldn't expect them to be causing any pollution problems," Knowles said. "But if we had someone who could be a full-time marina inspector, it would be beneficial because we do have to rely on trusting that the people who get the permits are going to do the right thing. We've tried to do some regular monitoring in the past, but it's a resource issue and, unfortunately, it hasn't been a priority for us."

Coastal Conservation League Director Dana Beach praised the Clean Marinas program but added that regulatory and citizen oversight were both key.

"Today, even massive cruise ships still dump their garbage into the ocean, and these are multimillion-dollar operations," he said. "And so we have to be realistic. The average boat owner is going to vary from being extremely responsible to completely unconcerned about pollution. So it's not good enough to have an entirely self-monitoring system."

Beach added that fines should be increased exponentially in the case of nighttime dumping of oily bilge water or sewage. "If I might get fined only $100 for dumping ? in the creek, it's a much easier decision to make to dump than if it's going to cost me $10,000."

'Clean Marinas'On the Web

The nine recognized S.C. facilities:

-- Charleston Harbor Marina, Charleston
-- City Marina, Charleston
-- Beaufort's Downtown Marina, Beaufort
-- Harbour Town Yacht Basin, Hilton Head Island
-- Wexford Plantation Marina, Hilton Head Island
-- Osprey Marina, Myrtle Beach
-- Reserve Harbor Marina, Litchfield

-- Plum Branch Yacht Club, Lake Thurmond
-- River Hills Marina Club, Lake Wylie




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