Monday, April 22, 2024

Sinking sailboat off Highway 74 being removed by owner following criminal citation

The owner of a sinking 1982 sailboat is reportedly removing his abandoned vessel, visible from Highway 74, to comply with a court order following his criminal citation.

On Wednesday morning, the abandoned and sinking 1982 sailboat on the Brunswick River visible from Highway 74 was still there. On Wednesday afternoon, Brunswick County Sheriff's Office said the owner was removing it. (Port City Daily/File photo)
The abandoned 1982 sailboat on the Brunswick River visible from Highway 74, pictured midday Wednesday, is being removed. On Wednesday afternoon, Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office said the owner was complying with a court order to remove it. (Port City Daily/File photo)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office received notice that the sinking, abandoned sailboat on Highway 74 is being removed by its owner Wednesday afternoon.

The boat sat, and began sinking, on the south side of the Brunswick River for months.

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Visible to thousands of drivers who cross the Brunswick River on Highway 74 daily, the 1982 Capital Yachts sailboat’s registration expired in October 2018.

Civil, criminal citations

The boat’s owner, George Rhodes of Wilmington, was charged on May 6 with violating a state law that requires trash and abandoned structures cannot be temporarily or permanently left in or on navigable waters in the state.

Rhodes appeared in Brunswick County Criminal Court on June 2. At his first appearance, Rhodes was given a court order to remove the vessel by August, according to Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Emily Flax. Though Rhodes has indicated to the sheriff’s office he is complying with his court order, he is still due to appear in court in August.

In March, Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office cited Rhodes after observing the abandoned boat near Dutchman Creek in Southport in July 2017. Rhodes was cited with violating both county ordinance and state law.

Flax said the sailboat has gone through the abandoned boat process several times through different owners. It’s been moored just outside the Highway 74 bridge on the Brunswick River since February, Flax said.

According to Flax, abandoned vessels can leak fuel, chemicals, and metals in the water.

County’s authority

Brunswick County Commissioners passed a new abandoned and derelict vessel ordinance in March 2017. The ordinance regulates how, and when, the Brunswick County Sherriff’s Office can begin the process of removing vessels from public waterways — similar to junk vehicle ordinances.

Major Tommy Tolley said the ordinance has helped the county clean up its waterways. The sheriff’s office removed three or four vessels, Tolley said, and has partnered with local salvage and towing companies on others.

“When the ordinance first when into effect, there were numerous boats in Brunswick County waters,” Tolley said. “We started the education and the tagging process that year.” 

The most effective option, Tolley said, is simply identifying and educating owners. “Working with the owners to get it out is the best course of action for all of us,” Tolley said. Before the ordinance went into effect, about 20 abandoned vessels were located around Dutchman Creek in Southport. “That place was littered with abandoned or unmanned vessels,” Tolley said. 

Brunswick County was one of the two first counties in the state granted the authority by the General Assembly in 2013 to remove vessels within its ordinance-making jurisdiction, according to Coastal Review Online (read Coastal Review Online’s series on the topic, “Displaced Derelict and Abandoned”). Later in 2015, the state granted all coastal counties the authority to regulate abandoned vessels.

Both state statute and Brunswick County ordinance define an “abandoned” vessel as a vessel that remains moored or anchored at a location without permission for more than 30 consecutive days in any 180 consecutive-day period.

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