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House bill targets derelict vessels

Shoreline communities would get significant state help in removing abandoned or junk boats under a bill from Rep. Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island), which unanimously passed the state House of Representatives this week.

The bill would create a state fund to reimburse local jurisdictions for three-quarters of the costs of getting rid of junk boats. Money would come from an additional $2 tacked on the annual boat-registration fee, Rockefeller said.

“This is a problem that general taxpayers should not be forced to solve,” he said. “The boating community should respond.”

The surcharge is expected to raise approximately $250,000 annually, Rockefeller’s office said.

The bill clarifies what Rockefeller said has been a murky area of the law, and specifically gives cities, harbor districts and other public authorities the right to remove boats that have been abandoned and either have sunk or are in danger of doing so.

“This bill provides clear legal authority to act by a number of public entities,” Rockefeller said. If local authorities do not act, the state Department of Natural Resources may step in.

Under the provisions of the bill, the first step is for the public entity to notify the last known owner of the situation. If an owner fails to respond, the public entity can take possession of the boat, and dispose of it the manner that either yields the highest return or incurs the lowest cost.

Any money realized from the sale of such boats goes into the state derelict-vessel fund.

The bill caps the fund at $1 million, and says that when the $1 million figure is reached, the registration surcharge will be suspended for the following year.

Bainbridge Island harbor master Tami Allen welcomed the legislation.

“The whole state is recognizing that small communities like Bainbridge Island can’t bear these burdens themselves,” she said.

Allen and Harbor Commissioner Dave Berry testified in favor of the bill before the House Natural Resources Committee in January.

Allen and the Bainbridge Harbor Commission have removed nine large derelict boats from Eagle Harbor since 1999, when the commission was formed, at an out-of-pocket cost of roughly $10,000 per year.

Volunteers have done most of the actual work in the past, Allen said, estimating the value of donated labor and heavy equipment at $15,000 per year. But the city still must pay for costs to transport the remains to a landfill, and the $50 to $75 per-ton disposal fees.

While the city has auctioned off some abandoned boats, it has received only nominal sums of money, Allen said – some $700 in the year 2000, for example.

“We may recover enough money for towing and berthing the boats,” she said, “but we don’t recover our whole cost.”

The fund will let the Harbor Commission tackle some larger removal projects outside of Eagle Harbor, Allen said, saying that there is one boat in Port Blakely and two in Port Madison that should be removed.

And it might let the commission tackle the granddaddy of derelict-removal jobs – the tugboat Tyee, which sunk outside of Manzanita Bay in 1999.

The best estimate of the cost to raise and remove that boat is $100,000, Allen said, most of which would be landfill costs for a vessel that might approach 1,000 tons.

“If we even started on a project like that it would wipe out two to three years worth of our funds,” Allen said.

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