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Safety concerns near sandbar resurface with near misses

LAKE WYLIE -- After two near misses recently on Little Allison Creek, some lake residents say their "nightmare" continues.

"They refuse to put buoys out regulating the speed or wake," Fred Perrill said of local law enforcement and government agencies. "The Lake Wylie Marine Commission has still not taken any action that we recommended. They have failed in every respect to do anything about it.

"It's just a nightmare," said Perrill, who, along with neighbors, started the Little Allison Association in 2005 to address water safety concerns.

According to York County Sheriff's Office reports, two boats needed assistance in less than 24 hours on the southern stretch of Lake Wylie. At 10 p.m. July 26, a ski boat hit a pontoon boat being driven by a Rock Hill woman. The following afternoon, a Rock Hill man required help when his boat began taking on water. No one was injured in either incident, said Lt. Robert McCullough with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

"It was a case where someone threw a boat in reverse too quickly, and it started taking on water," McCullough said. "Both were very minor incidents."

But neighbors, like Kathy Kitts, heard about people being thrown into the water. On July 27, Kitts saw the boat upside down on the water.

"I don't know the circumstances of how it got flipped over," she said.

Residents on Little Allison Creek, a hotbed of weekend activity for its popular sandbar, met with natural resources and lake law enforcement agencies three years ago asking that the area be designated a no wake zone. The request was denied. Now, residents differ on whether there's been any progress in recent years.

"Things haven't changed," Perrill said. "There are large boats still going at very high speeds. It goes on night and day on the weekends."

Kitts, however, says since a another group of residents, Allison Creek Neighbors, meets with the York County Sheriff's Office and SCDNR regularly, there have been more area patrols. She said the Sheriff's Office has talked about docking a boat there.

"I would say we're generally pleased with what's happened," she said. "(That) weekend, traffic was just horrendous. I don't know what the occasion was."

Totty Wilkerson, another of the original Little Allison Association leaders, agrees there's been improvement, but she and her husband, like Perrill, say problems persist.

"I never go out on weekends or holidays -- never," Wilkerson said.

Several years ago, Wilkerson counted from her deck the boats entering Little Allison on major holidays at 600 to 700, with 80 boats at the sandbar when last she counted. And, she said, there are signs of improvement.

"I have seen the presence of officers on the weekends and holidays like I've never seen before," Wilkerson said. "I've been very impressed."

The Little Allison Association did not meet at all last summer, Wilkerson said, and likely will not meet this summer unless the situation worsens. A new lakefront law enforcement facility off Concord Road, which could open by the fall, should help, too, she said.

"We asked for enforcement, we got enforcement," Wilkerson said. "Now, we've got to let them do their job."

McCullough said said statewide, boating fatalities are up to 18 in 2008 compared to 16 in all of 2007.

"Probably 15 of those 18 would have survived had they been wearing a life jacket," McCullough said.