State officials say they are trying to crack down on some of the “river shacks” that remain along South Carolina’s lakes and swamps.
“Shack” is a loose term that is used to describe any structure floating on a waterway which is used as a place of habitation but lacks a method of self-powered movement.
The state legislature passed a law banning the structures on South Carolina’s public waters in 2007, concerned about the environmental aspect of buildings that often lack sewage systems. The law passed without the signature of then-Gov. Mark Sanford, who refused to either sign or veto the measure. As a concession, lawmakers allowed a five-year grace period for those who sought special permits to keep the buildings. Fifty permits were granted.
The five years are now up and most of the structures across the state are now gone, according to Department of Natural Resources spokesman Robert McCullough. He said the agency is prosecuting the owners of shacks they do find. If caught, the owner of a structure has 45 days to bring the dock into compliance. Beyond that and a court could order the building demolished, with its owner responsible for removal costs.
“Now that the five years are up, it’s up,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “Now… when we find one, we identify it, mark it, and put notification on the shack itself at that point and give them the opportunity to get in touch with us.”
However, many buildings still remain on the upper reaches of Lake Marion, in a shallow section of the lake that locals call “Sparkleberry Swamp.” The owner of one structure, who wished to remain anonymous due to the situation, said law enforcement had largely avoided ticketing the shacks on the Sumter County section of the lake.
While the lake is technically under the purview of DNR, it is patrolled by Santee-Cooper — the state-owned utility that generates electricity through an earthen dam on its southern edge. A spokesperson for Santee-Cooper did not immediately return South Carolina Radio Network’s request for more information.
McCullough said there are fears that the buildings, which lack proper sewage systems, are polluting the water.
“Most of them don’t have marine toilets or those kind of facilities,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing.” Owners argue that DNR should instead prosecute those who don’t follow regulations dealing with the safe disposal of sewage.
Since the five-year grace period expired in August, DNR says it has gotten requests from many of the permit-holders to have their shacks classified as “homemade watercraft.” A vessel can be registered and titled under that category so long as it is not manufactured, otherwise there are no other criteria in state regulations.
But DNR is proposing new regulations that would put stricter requirements on “homemade watercraft” in response. The changes include requiring a watercraft to have a marine toilet and specifically outlawing a floating dock from being registered. A hearing into the requirements is scheduled for Jan. 7 at DNR’s headquarters in Columbia.