Tag Archives: Derelict Vessel Removal Program

County officials identify 18 problem boats; three considered ‘derelict’

A two-day survey of Kitsap County’s shoreline identified 90 boats moored on buoys, at anchor or aground — and 18 of them were found to have some kind of problem, according to Richard Bazzell of the Kitsap Public Health District.

Contractors demolish an old boat turned in as part of a new state program. Photo: Department of Natural Resources
Contractors demolish an old boat turned in as part of a new state program.
Photo: Department of Natural Resources

The survey, conducted Monday and Tuesday, is considered a key step in Kitsap County’s new Derelict Vessel Prevention Program, which I described in a Kitsap Sun story (subscription) last May. The idea is to identify neglected vessels that could pose a risk of sinking if not given some attention.

Of the 18 vessels with problems, three were declared “derelict” boats with a high risk of sinking or polluting the water, based on criteria developed by the state’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program. Owners of those boats will get an official warning, and the state could take control of the boats if the owners fail to make them seaworthy.

Richard told me that he has the greatest concern for a 30-foot power boat moored in Port Gamble Bay. The other two boats are sailboats. Because of their condition, they could be considered illegal dumping and managed under the county’s solid-waste regulations, as well as under the state’s derelict vessels laws, he said.

For the other boats needing attention, the approach will be a friendly reminder, Richard told me. Ten of the 18 boats were unregistered, which is an early sign of neglect for boats in the water. Other problems range from deteriorating hulls to weak lines to excessive algae growth. The greatest concerns are that the boats will spill toxic chemicals, such as fuel, or create a navigational hazard for other boats.

It was encouraging to find a relatively small number of boats with problems, Richard said.

“We were expecting to run into a lot more problems,” he noted. “Surprisingly, we didn’t, and that is a good thing.”

The county will offer technical assistance to help boat owners figure out what to do, and educational workshops could provide general maintenance information.

Boats with the most significant problems were found in these Kitsap County embayments: Yukon Harbor in South Kitsap; Dyes and Sinclair inlets in Central Kitsap; and Liberty Bay, Appletree Cove and Port Gamble Bay in North Kitsap.

This week’s survey covered about 250 miles of county shoreline, where the health district’s efforts are funded with a state grant. Excluded are military bases, where private mooring is not allowed, and Bainbridge Island, where the city’s harbormaster is conducting similar work under the state grant.

The overall $250,000 grant for the prevention program is being coordinated by Marc Forlenza, who developed a procedure proven to be successful in San Juan County. Marc credits Joanruth Bauman, who operated the derelict vessel program in San Juan County, as being the brainchild of the prevention program.

Money for the prevention program came from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Puget Sound Restoration Fund. The grant is managed by the Puget Sound Partnership.

Seven counties, including San Juan and Kitsap, are involved in the regional effort. The other counties are King, Pierce, Snohomish, Mason and Jefferson. Thurston County is covered by the Pierce County grant.

Some counties have been up and running for months. Others, including Kitsap, are a little slow because of contract complications. San Juan County contracted with Kitsap County, which then contracted with the health district and Bainbridge Island. Those last contracts were approved earlier this month.

The whole idea, Marc said, is to work with boat owners to keep the vessels from becoming derelict in the first place. If boat owners can take care of the problems, it costs the county and state almost nothing. Once declared derelict, government officials are forced to spend money in an effort to keep boats from sinking.

When a boat sinks, Marc said, the cost of dealing with the problem rises 10-fold, and the resulting pollution can destroy marine life.

In San Juan County, early action on problem boats has reduced the cost of dealing with derelict vessels from $76,000 in 2012 to $23,000 in 2013 to zero in 2014, he said. That doesn’t include vessels taken by the Washington Department of Natural Resources under the new Voluntary Turn-In Program, which I’ll discuss in a moment.

Marc has a good way of dealing with people. He seems to understand the needs and challenges of boat ownership, and he tries to nudge people in the right direction.

“You have to take time to talk to boat owners,” he explained. “I call it ‘boat psychology.’ Some of these people have held onto their boats for 20, 30 or 40 years. They have loved their boat. When I talk to them, some will say, ‘I guess it’s time to let ol’ Betsy go,’ while others will say, ‘Over my dead body.’”

For the latter group, Marc drives home the fact that a boat owner may be held criminally liable for maintaining a derelict boat — and the Attorney General’s Office is now prosecuting such cases. Beyond that, an owner may be held financially responsible if a boat sinks — including the cost of raising the boat along with any natural resource damages caused by pollution.

“That can cost tens of thousands of dollars, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases,” he said. “You try to appeal to people’s better sense.”

In Kitsap County, people who see a boat listing or potentially sinking should call 911. For nonemergency conditions, one can call Kitsap One, 360-337-5777, except for Bainbridge Island where people should call Harbormaster Tami Allen at 206-786-7627. Additional information and phone numbers for other counties can be found on a Puget Sound Partnership webpage.

The DNR’s Vessel Turn-In Program gives some people a way to take action with little cost. To qualify, boats must be less than 45 feet long and have practically no value. The owner must lack the means to repair or dispose of the boat. If approved by DNR, the owner must drive or tow the vessel to a disposal location and turn over ownership to the state. For details, check out the DNR’s website on the Vessel Turn-In Program.

Since the turn-in program started last May, DNR has disposed 19 boats, with another five lined up for disposal, according to Joe Smillie of the agency. The Legislature provided $400,000 for the new turn-in program, which is separate from the larger Derelict Vessel Removal Program.

The removal program targets vessels at risk of sinking. In emergencies, DNR or local agencies can take immediate action, but normally the owner is given at least 30 days to move or repair the vessel.

Since 2002, DNR has removed about 550 abandoned vessels throughout the state. About 150 others have been tagged as “vessels of concern.”

In 2014 alone, 40 vessels were removed, including the sunken Helena Star. The Helena Star was raised from Tacoma’s Hylebos Waterway and salvaged at a cost of $1.16 million, requiring special funding from the Legislature. The owner of the vessel was later charged with a crime.

See the Washington Department of Ecology’s Helena Star website and other information from the Washington State Office of the Attorney General.

Derelict vessel rules get stronger next month

The state’s derelict vessel law, revised this year by the Legislature, will oil the gears of a state program that disposes of abandoned vessels throughout Puget Sound and along the Columbia River.

Legal action is pending against the 180-foot New Star, which was supposed to stay at the Port Ludlow Marina a few days but has been there since October. Photo courtesy of DNR
Legal action is pending against the 180-foot New Star, which was scheduled to remain at the Port Ludlow Marina for a few days but has been there since October. / Photo courtesy of DNR

For some reason, Washington state and Kitsap County in particular seem to attract more than their share of junk vessels. If you are on or near the water, you may spot these old boats grounded on the beach or else abandoned at anchor.

Some of these ugly boats are still seaworthy and just need some loving care. If the owners act responsibly and find safe moorage or else move their boat from place to place, they will probably never have to deal with the state’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program. Otherwise, recent changes in the law will allow the process to grind on more quickly.

Check out my recent stories in the Kitsap Sun on:

Melissa Ferris, who heads the state’s program under the Department of Natural Resources, told me she is pleased with the final version of the law. For one thing, it imposes a permanent $2 fee on vessel registrations in Washington state, a fee that was scheduled to drop back to $1 at the end of this year.

The $2 fee has allowed her program to operate with two staffers instead of one, she said. The Legislature additionally funded a third person in its jobs bill last year, and the new staffer has focused his full attention on identifying derelict boats and completing the paperwork needed for disposal.

Within the past few months, Melissa said, five abandoned vessels were removed from Poulsbo’s Liberty Bay. Others were pulled out near Port Orchard and Manchester — not including the numerous vessels taken into custody in Kitsap County over the past few years.

“We’ve removed a lot in Kitsap County, but we’ve been generally busy in a lot of places,” Melissa told me.

Vessel removals are pending in King, Pierce, Thurston, Jefferson, Clark, Skagit, Island, Whatcom and San Juan counties. Check out the list of “Notices of Intent to Obtain Custody” on DNR’s website.

Besides the permanent fee, the revised law removes criminal sanctions for failing to register your boat. Now, you will be hit be a fine, much like failing to purchase new car tabs.

Some of the fine goes back to the law-enforcement agency that writes the ticket, so the result could be increased enforcement.

From Melissa’s point of view, more boater registration is a good thing, because much of her time is spent tracking down legal owners who have not registered their vessels for many years.

In addition, government agencies will be required to inspect and register their vessels prior to sale. It’s surprising how many boats on the water these days used to be owned by a state or federal agency. Government vessels are generally exempt from registration.

The revised law also authorizes $200,000 to be spent on a pilot program that will take back boats the owners no longer want. It’s easier and cheaper to take the boats while they’re floating rather than dealing with them after they sink. Melissa said she will look to California, Florida and other states that have experience with similar take-back programs.

“We want to focus on boats that are the hardest for people to take care of on their own,” she noted.

Large cabin cruisers and old sailboats with little value are the most likely candidates for the take-back program, which could be made permanent if it is successful.

Appeals by boat owners who face losing their boats must be filed with the state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board, instead of the courts, under the revised law.

Local governments are free to set up their own appeals process if they get involved with abandoned boats. As always, local governments that go through the process of disposal can recover 90 percent of the cost from the state program.

Melissa said the revised law encourages boat owners to deal with boats before they become a problem. “I think it will help move the whole program from a reaction process to a preventative focus,” she said.

A work group will tackle some of the more difficult issues that were not resolved before final passage of House Bill 1245 this year. Issues include how to make the owners of large vessels financially responsible for the problems they cause and how to get more boatyards interested in disposing of large vessels.

Melissa says this positive legislation was the result of a successful collaboration between state agencies and the bill’s sponsors: Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, in the House and Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, in the Senate.

Other information can be found on the website of the Derelict Vessel Removal Program.