By Greg Oliver

The Journal

CLEMSON — When the Larry W. Abernathy Park opened more than 15 years ago, it became necessary for Clemson police to purchase a boat to patrol the waters of Lake Hartwell surrounding the park.

Clemson Police officer Joshua Hullet, left, and Lt. Richard Gooch ride on the department’s patrol boat near the Abernathy Park boardwalk on Lake Hartwell.
Savannah Blake | The Journal

Interim Clemson Police Chief Jeff Stone said earlier this year that the time had come to replace the boat. Unfortunately, COVID-19 had other plans.

“We were not able to get the boat replaced this year since COVID-19 changed many things,” Stone said. “The boat was placed on hold until next year, depending on the fiscal conditions at that time.”

Stone said his department still needs a new boat.

“Ours has had a hard life because of the sun and the wear and tear over the years,” he said. “It doesn’t stay in the lake a lot, but it’s starting to show its age, with wear and stress cracks. The motor has been replaced, and we did have to replace the engine, because it went out a couple of years ago. But the engine is included in the boat we will be getting, so that will help.”

The boat, which stays in storage during the winter months unless there is an emergency, allows Clemson police to assist the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Clemson University and Oconee County through a mutual aid agreement. The boat is also part of the emergency response plan if an emergency was to ever occur at Oconee Nuclear Station.

“If there are any incidents, we’re within 10 or 15 minutes of getting there on the lake, so we’re able to have quicker response times than other agencies,” Stone said. “We also assist the university with their rowing events, as well as the regattas. We’re always on the lake when we have rowing events and the triathlon, FLW (Fishing League Worldwide) tournaments and any of the major events that are on this lake.”

However, Stone added that COVID-19 has limited most of the activities the boat is used for so “it will not be detrimental to wait.”

“Our current boat is still functional for occasional use, but, hopefully, we will be able to get it replaced by the time the frequent events start picking up again,” he said.

Stone said all boat operators must be trained through the DNR’s boater safety course, as well as driving courses.

“A lot of it is getting the boat to the lake, being able to launch it and get it out,” he said. “So, we want to make sure the boat operator himself has the experience to operate it and drive it back in the trailer. That doesn’t come naturally.”

The chief said Clemson police also conduct safety checks on the water, but leave the more serious cases, such as DUIs, to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. He added that having a boat on hand allows for a quicker response in case of an emergency.

“It isn’t deep water here, but it doesn’t have to be deep water for something bad to happen,” Stone said.

Stone said the only time in recent years he could recall the boat being used in an emergency situation came several years ago when a boat capsized. He also said there have been searches for people who went overboard on boats.

“Those are not things that have happened frequently,” Stone said.

Stone estimated the cost of a new boat to be between $45,000-$47,000, and the craft was to be purchased through a state bid. DNR uses and recommends the type of boat Clemson police planned to purchase.

“It’s not going to be a pontoon boat or anything like that, but is a tri-haul boat,” he said. “It won’t be anything extravagant, just what’s on state contract.”

Clemson Police Lt. Richard Gooch has been one of the boat operators for at least the past five years and enjoys being out on the lake.

“The weather’s nice, it’s not raining, it’s not too cold,” Gooch said, adding, “I’m on the lake.”

During the summer months, Gooch said he gets to spend between four and five hours on the lake with the boat — and possibly more, depending on available manpower and the need.

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