Seeking shelter with 100 other frightened locals in September 1989, Jack Scoville hunkered down in the old Georgetown County courthouse as Hurricane Hugo made landfall.
Looking out thewindow at the Sampit River, he wondered about the crazy people he saw venturing out in boats during a category 4 storm. Then he recognized the U.S. Coast Guard stripe on the side of the vessel.
“The Coast Guard stayed to do their duty, running missions at the height of the storm. I was overwhelmed by their dedication and courage,” said Scoville, now Georgetown’s mayor. “You’re talking about 112 mph winds.”
Saturday marked 222 years of national service for the Coast Guard, which keeps 42,000 men and women on active duty, running a variety of missions from drug interdiction to search and rescue.
Station Georgetown is part of District 7, one of nine Coast Guard districts that safeguard U.S. waters. The station and its staffers are a source of local pride.
“Georgetown is the confluence of five rivers flowing into the county, plus the
Intracoastal Waterway and Winyah Bay. There are thousands of acres of marsh and tidal creeks and ocean going traffic to and from Georgetown,” said Scoville. “There are more registered boats in Georgetown County than automobiles.”
About three-dozen people staff the Georgetown station, which was housed on a floating barge prior to 1989. Known as “Guardians of the Grand Strand,” they patrol about 3,500 miles of coast from the North Carolina border to Bulls Bay in Charleston County, said Petty Ofc. First Class Lauren Jorgensen with public affairs in Jacksonville, Fla.
“I know that Georgetown averages about 200 search and rescue missions every year, and about 500 law enforcement boardings,” Jorgensen said.
Many of the boardings are just to check safety compliance, but the presence of Coast Guard boats is likely a deterrent to crime.
“Back in the ‘70s, it was not unusual to find an abandoned shrimp boat loaded with marijuana” Scoville said. “Georgetown was an entry point for drug smugglers.”
Myrtle Beach resident Fred Portway, who served in the Coast Guard in the 1950s, pitched the idea of getting Georgetown recognized as an official Coast Guard city to City Council in February and the mayor was quick to jump on board. To date, only 14 cities hold that designation.
Although there may not be direct benefit to the city itself, Portway and Scoville would like to recognize the Coast Guard for the vital role they play in the community.
“We’re very dependent on them in Georgetown, where everything pertains to the water,” Scoville said. “[Coast Guard personnel] are great citizens of our community.”
Portway helped compile information and documents needed to apply for the Coast Guard Cities program, which is handled by Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“We’re also raising private money for a banquet honoring people in the Coast Guard,” Portway said.
Budget cuts could affect Coast Guard
The Coast Guard, originally named the Revenue-Cutter Service, was created by the Treasury Department in 1790 under Alexander Hamilton. After two centuries of service, pending budget cuts could potentially alter its role in Georgetown, which concerns Scoville.
“Congress is not appropriating as much money to dredging shipping channels. We’ve already suffered from cuts in dredging Winyah Bay,” Scoville said. “The maximum depth we can go is 27 feet, which still limits the ship that can serve the port. At some points, it’s as shallow as 18 feet. We could run more ships if we had the depth.”
Unlike Charleston, Georgetown is not a container port and never will be, the mayor said. Charleston requires 55-foot depth to accommodate container ships. But some industries find shipping to a specialty destination, such as Georgetown, is most cost effective.
“Budget cuts are something every branch of the military has experienced in the last couple of years,” Jorgensen said. “We look at how we can spend taxpayers money wisely and do the best we can with the resources we have.”