The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources on Monday opened its first-ever Horry County customer service office in Aynor, allowing locals to have easier access to hunting, fishing and boating licenses.
Located at 640 9th Avenue in Aynor, the office is on the left-hand side of the old Aynor fire station, which DNR is renting from Horry County. A supervisor and four customer service representatives will work in the office Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the exception of Wednesdays, when the office will open at 9:30 a.m.
In addition to customer service, DNR officers will use the facility as an Horry County base of operations. The bays that used to hold fire engines now hold equipment used by the officers, including vehicles and boats. DNR Capt. Michael Paul Thomas said a sergeant and seven officers will be based at the facility.
Residents will be able to obtain boating licenses and titles at the office, as well as needed tags for turkey and deer hunting. Previously, residents could obtain those documents through the mail, or by driving to Charleston or Columbia. DNR has a so-called “express” center in Florence, but that office doesn’t handle boating, only fishing and hunting.
Horry County is home to a number of boaters and fisherman, and DNR officials hope the new facility will better serve the growing, coastal region. DNR Director Robert Boyles said Horry County alone is home to more than 29,000 boats.
On Monday, after state lawmakers, Horry County Council members and several DNR officials ceremoniously cut a green ribbon in front of the office’s door, customer service representatives took their positions behind the counter and began the first day of service.
Jerry Gardner was the second customer in line. Living in Conway, Gardner said he was excited to have a physical office he could go to to handle his boating business instead of “standing on the phone” and hearing “you’ll receive the first available operator,” over and over.
Unfortunately, though, Gardner’s titling situation with his boat was too complicated for the Aynor office to handle so he’ll have to make the trek to Columbia to get it sorted out. He even brought the boat with him to the ribbon cutting. Still, he was pleased that the new office was open.
“It went good,” he said after walking out of the office. “I wanted to not have to go to Columbia but I’ve got to with my situation. It’s one of those, this one sold, that one sold, that one sold and never got a title for it, so they’ve got to investigate it now.”
DNR officers in Columbia will have to investigate the boat’s history before they can properly title it. But Gardner didn’t leave empty-handed: He also received the tags he’ll need if he ever wants to go turkey hunting. He doesn’t usually hunt, but said the tags might come in handy anyway.
“I’ll take them, they’re free. If my sister irritates me, I’ll go shoot one of her turkeys that she feeds,” he said with a laugh.
Spearheaded by South Carolina state Rep. Jeff Johnson, who represents Aynor and part of Conway, the new DNR office will be funded and open for at least five years, with extensions likely after that point. Johnson said he began working on opening the office after hearing complaints from constituents.
“I got some phone calls from constituents and those constituents called me and said, ‘I’m having to drive all the way to Charleston, or Columbia, or get a title for my boat.’ I said, well, let’s work on making something happen here in Horry County.”
After successfully convincing the state legislature to appropriate funding for the new office, Johnson said he and DNR settled on Aynor as the location for the office after Horry County Council member Al Allen, who represents the area, recommended it. In addition, Johnson and DNR Director Boyles said, the location will allow DNR to serve parts of Marion and Florence counties as well as other regions along the Pee Dee River.
“This is not just for Horry County, it just happens to be located here for this Pee Dee region,” Johnson said. “It couldn’t be in a better place. It’s going to be positive for Aynor.”
Boyles added that the office locating in Aynor could also boost the local economy. People who come to handle their boating business during a lunch break, for example, might stop by an Aynor restaurant for lunch or fill up on gas before they head back to work or back home, he said.
“We think it will generate some traffic that will have some spillover affects with the local businesses as well,” Boyles said.
For its first year of operation, the DNR center has a budget of $250,000 to $300,000 for start-up costs and a year of operating, the agency said last year when the move to Aynor was first announced. Part of that cost will be the lease the agency has with Horry County, which owns the former fire station the office now calls home. The lease allows the DNR to use 3,450 square feet of the 9,000 square foot building for a monthly rent of $4,025, that will run for five years.
Horry County Fire Rescue moved out of the building in mid-2019, and into a new facility on Jordanville Road.
The result of a two-year process, Johnny Gardner, the Horry County Council chairman, said it took a lot of collaboration between state lawmakers and DNR to complete the project.
“It’s a wonderful thing, it’s going to really help out Horry County and the surrounding counties that don’t want to drive a long way,” he said. “It’s the result of a lot of teamwork.”
On Monday, Brian Koehnen, from Conway, was customer number three, and the office opened just in time. A boater of the Intracoastal Waterway, Koehnen is a fisherman who sails a little jon boat and frequently visits Sandy Island. He said he’ll be participating in a cleanup of the waterway this weekend and was looking to get his boat titled before hitting the water to help out.
“It was quick, easy, I’m happy,” he said after walking out of the office. “It’s a lot quicker than the mail.”