Boats missing from Augusta Riverfront Marina a mystery

Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 6:52 PM
Last updated Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 11:29 AM
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Officials are looking for as many as four boats that disappeared from the public dock at the Augusta Riverfront Marina in the past few days, but whether the culprit is a vandal or rising water remains unclear.

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A boat that drifted from Augusta Riverfront Marina was found downstream.  TONYA BONITATIBUS/SPECIAL
TONYA BONITATIBUS/SPECIAL
A boat that drifted from Augusta Riverfront Marina was found downstream.

Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said six boats went missing from their spots on the dock in the past four days. One was found Thursday tangled in trees on the riverbank half a mile downstream, and another was found inexplicably tied to the marina warehouse dock.

Bonitatibus said that four remain at large and that she fears they might have floated through the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, because the buoy cable that acts as a barrier for boaters was broken.

On Thursday, Bonitatibus, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were on the river searching for the boats and looking for possible structural damage to the dam in case the wandering watercraft crashed into the pillars.

Bonitatibus said she doubts the boats drifted away by accident because she found pieces of cut rope and sliced chain on the dock. On Thursday, there were at least two knots still attached to the dock where rope was cut from the base.

“I think there’s clear evidence of foul play because there was a very significant chain cut, and there’s ropes that were definitely cut loose,” she said. “Those ropes didn’t just break.”

Marina dockmaster Steve Daly questions that theory completely, however. Daly said only two boats, not six, were tied to the public dock during the past week.

Daly said he believes the two boats – whose owners were unpaying squatters who long surpassed the 48-hour docking limit – drifted away because of shoddy tying jobs after the river rose six feet Sunday.

“Neither one of those fellows have been down here taking care of their boat, and they didn’t realize the river was coming up,” Daly said. “They had ropes coming across the dock, one had his boat tied to the fence and it was not tied right at all.”

Gene Gilbert, whose 41-foot 1960 Chris-Craft Constellation is still missing, said he noticed the boat was gone when he stopped to check on it Thursday morning. He said that the knot was still attached to the dock but that the rope had clearly been cut.

He drove to the Fifth Street Marina to check whether it had been moved and then met Bonitatibus at the lock and dam to check for evidence the boat had drifted downstream.

“I just hope it’s not at the bottom of the river,” Gilbert said.

Daly said Gilbert’s boat had been at the public dock since May, even though boat owners are permitted to keep their vessels on the public dock for only 48 hours. Daly said the boat found on the bank Thursday, owned by Terry Hill, had been squatting on the public dock for three weeks.

Bonitatibus said the owner of the boat found mysteriously tied to the Marina warehouse dock is in jail. Besides Hill’s boat that was found and Gilbert’s that has been confirmed missing, Bonitatibus said she has not been able to identify the owners of the remaining three missing boats.

Daly said that’s because they don’t exist.

“There were only two on the public dock, and they were basically there illegally,” Daly said regarding Hill and Gilbert.

Daly said the public dock is available for boaters who want to house their boats temporarily while they eat downtown or see the city.

Boaters staying more than 48 hours must rent a slip with the marina on the private dock or in the warehouse. Daly said that the city, not the marina, is responsible for maintaining the 200 feet of public dock but that it has been neglected for some time.

Bonitatibus said she is certain the boats were there last week and noticed two were gone Monday. When Gilbert called her about his missing boat Thursday, she knew there was a problem.

“When (Gilbert’s) boat went missing, I said ‘Wait a minute, something is not right,’ ” she said. “There were six boats at the official Augusta marina on rented dock space, and they were moved to the public dock for nonpayment; now they’re gone.”

Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Calvin Chew could not provide information about the incident Thursday.

Chrissy Alford, the recreation chief ranger for the Corps of Engineers, said her main concern is whether any drifting boat has caused structural damage to the dam or Sand Bar Ferry bridge along its journey.

Although the dam controls the water level of the river that reaches downtown, Alford said she is not yet overly worried about any damage affecting water levels.

“I’m mainly concerned about the structural damage to the dam or any of these bridges (the boats) could have hit,” Alford said.

High water closes ramp

The Baurle boat ramp at Lock and Dam Park has been closed because of Savannah River flooding.

High water levels at Thurmond Lake prompted the Army Corps of Engineers to increase water releases at Thurmond Dam, causing waters downstream to rise, according to the Augusta-Richmond County Emergency Management Office.

The boat ramp is inaccessible, but Lock and Dam Park remains open.

Thurmond Lake was 332.78 feet above sea level Thursday. Normal water level for this time of year is 326 feet.

– Meg Mirshak, staff writer

Comments (23) Add comment
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Dixieman
16595
Points
Dixieman 01/02/14 - 10:40 pm
11
1
WHY.....

....does the Chronicle keep running puff pieces about Riverkeeper, which is a radical left-wing job-killing machine, spending a large amount of its dues on environmental litigation????
Why?

Riverman1
90701
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Riverman1 01/03/14 - 05:18 am
7
3
Clear What Happened

It's pretty clear someone cut the chain, etc. that allowed those boats to float downstream. This vandalism costs tens of thousands of dollars. It's a major crime that shows how mismanaged the marina is. No security and the manager saying he isn't sure what happened although the chain was obviously cut.

wribbs
474
Points
wribbs 01/03/14 - 06:17 am
6
0
Why doesn't someone get in a

Why doesn't someone get in a boat and drive it to Savannah. If you don't see the boats, they are at the bottom of the river.

I'll bring my boat, a sober driver, and a cooler full of beer. It will be a blast.

tom31510
365
Points
tom31510 01/03/14 - 07:39 am
5
1
Lost boats investigation

Don't call RCSO, they're too busy doing internal investigations to get rid of officers whose exemplary service reflects badly on the run of the mill, blue-light-flashers.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 01/03/14 - 09:42 am
5
0
if boats were there illegally

if boats were there illegally then chalk it up to eviction and focus on the Chris-Craft.

emanon
34
Points
emanon 01/03/14 - 09:43 am
3
1
Methinks he doth protest too

Methinks he doth protest too much.

Little Lamb
47987
Points
Little Lamb 01/03/14 - 10:17 am
5
3
Counting

The Riverkeeper says six boats were cut loose. The marina dockmaster says two. The dockmaster says the two belonged to squatters, who don't pay slip rent.

Let's ramp down the temperature of these horror stories brought to the paper by the Riverkeeper. Creating panic is what brings in contributions.

Let's cut the dockmaster a little slack. Here it is the lull between Christmas and going back to work after New Year's Day. Activity on the river is at a low ebb, so let the dockmaster take a day or two off, as well.

Little Lamb
47987
Points
Little Lamb 01/03/14 - 10:20 am
4
4
No Fear

From the story:

Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said that four [watercraft] remain at large and that she fears they might have floated through the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, because the buoy cable that acts as a barrier for boaters was broken.

Chill a little, Ms. Bonatatibus. Remember the angel of the Lord told Mary, Joseph, the shepherds abiding in the fields, and others, “Fear not.”

soapy_725
43963
Points
soapy_725 01/03/14 - 10:31 am
1
0
What happened to the "lights on the river parade". Not gay enoug
Unpublished

What happened to the "lights on the river parade". Not gay enoug

gargoyle
19557
Points
gargoyle 01/03/14 - 11:41 am
4
0
Leaving a boat at a temporary

Leaving a boat at a temporary dock is the equivalent of leaving your car at a truck stop parking lot . If you've let it there 6 months no one is going to make finding it top priority . The river has been really slamming in the past week , anything on the water would be taking a beating, boats breaking loose from moorings wouldn't surprise me

Riverman1
90701
Points
Riverman1 01/03/14 - 01:23 pm
3
0
Gargoyle, how is this marina

Gargoyle, how is this marina considered a temporary one and others are permanent ones? I thought people rented spots there and kept their boats there permanently? Some even live on them. Is that not the case?

gargoyle
19557
Points
gargoyle 01/03/14 - 01:31 pm
3
0
"Daly said Gilbert’s boat had

"Daly said Gilbert’s boat had been at the public dock since May, even though boat owners are permitted to keep their vessels on the public dock for only 48 hours. Daly said the boat found on the bank Thursday, owned by Terry Hill, had been squatting on the public dock for three weeks."Boaters staying more than 48 hours must rent a slip with the marina on the private dock or in the warehouse. Daly said that the city, not the marina, is responsible for maintaining the 200 feet of public dock but that it has been neglected for some time.

Riverman1
90701
Points
Riverman1 01/03/14 - 01:45 pm
3
0
Gargoyle, got it

Gargoyle, got it. I thought where they could rent permanent places and this dock were one and the same. Thanks.

Riverman1
90701
Points
Riverman1 01/03/14 - 01:46 pm
3
0
The Ports Authority and Riverkeepers

The Ports Authority and the Savannah Riverkeepers have always had a close relationship. Dr. Frank Carl who headed Riverkeepers until Bonatatibus took over also used to head the Ports Authority for the city. A big problem they fear is boats being sunk in the river causing obstructions.

gargoyle
19557
Points
gargoyle 01/03/14 - 02:39 pm
2
0
Long term storage of my car

Long term storage of my car at a public park and share parking lot wouldn't be a good idea. That put the onus of securing the property on the owner, vandalism if it turns out that was the case shouldn't be tolerated but the river is a powerful force that's why a lot of people choose to pay a marina to oversee and provide security for boats left on the water.

bdouglas
5588
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bdouglas 01/03/14 - 02:45 pm
2
0
@gargoyle

"Leaving a boat at a temporary dock is the equivalent of leaving your car at a truck stop parking lot . If you've let it there 6 months no one is going to make finding it top priority."

Yes, but leaving your car unattended doesn't make it vulnerable to damaging infrastructure like bridges, locks and dams "downstream". Granted, if the city did their job they'd have the offending property removed after a warning when they pass the 48 hour limit.

gargoyle
19557
Points
gargoyle 01/03/14 - 03:29 pm
2
0
If my unattended car rolled

If my unattended car rolled down a hill and damaged property if I didn't have proof someone else caused it to I would be responsible. In my mind its the same for a boat I would be the one held accountable for making sure it is secure. Mother Nature is fickle and she is really raging down on the river right now. If vandalism was the cause then the vandals need found but a word to the wise if you have anything on the river be sure its secured for flood conditions . And yes in perfect world they wouldn't be there after 48 hours the owners would have had to show cause why they were still there .

Riverman1
90701
Points
Riverman1 01/03/14 - 03:28 pm
3
0
Did you guys see on TV last

Did you guys see on TV last night the big ropes on the dock that were obviously cut?

gargoyle
19557
Points
gargoyle 01/03/14 - 03:35 pm
1
0
Sorry about the edit Having

Sorry about the edit Having Computer problems. Dang thing is locking up #$%^

David Parker
7923
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David Parker 01/03/14 - 04:14 pm
3
0
Gremlins are famous for

Gremlins are famous for chewing through boat lines.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 01/03/14 - 04:15 pm
2
0
I continue to get this image

I continue to get this image in my head of a bunch of boats floating away from their mooring and laughing out loud like teenagers sneaking out at night.

mdl1946
1131
Points
mdl1946 01/03/14 - 05:17 pm
0
0
WHY IS THERE A H.P. AD COVERING UP PART OF THE

STORY. IT WON'T CLOSE-----I'M PAYING ENOUGH FOR THIS SERVICE THAT AD'S SHOULD NOT BE COVERING UP THE STORIES!!!!!!!!!

NO ITS COVERING THE TOP STORIES

IF THIS A NEW WAY THE AC IS GOING TO DO THIS PAGE I WILL BE CANCELLING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
NOW ITS GONE

Little Lamb
47987
Points
Little Lamb 01/03/14 - 10:26 pm
1
0
Virus

Hey, mdl1946, I feel your pain. I got a new tab pop up while viewing the Chronicle web site an hour or so ago saying I needed to update my Firefox browser version. I X-ed out the tab, and then twenty minutes or so later my anti-virus program (Kaspersky) popped up and said a virus was detected and removed.

Watch out, folks!

Little Lamb
47987
Points
Little Lamb 01/03/14 - 10:31 pm
1
0
Flooding

I was watching the bowl game an hour and a half ago and the TV said there was a river flood warning in Burke County and Allendale County for the next two days. Is Clarks Hill releasing that much water to cause flooding? Will Chronicle photographers or Channel 12 cameramen bother to go to Shell Bluff and film the flooding?

Tune in tomorrow!

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