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Troubled tugboat becomes property of the state, tow expected this week
The removal of the derelict tugboat that currently sits in Eagle Harbor is now the state's problem.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources has officially taken custody of the "Chickamauga," the vessel that sank in Eagle Harbor in early October and leaked approximately 200 to 300 gallons of diesel fuel into Puget Sound.
The state seized the historic tugboat Thursday, Jan. 16, following an announcement by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark of the filing of charges against the owner Anthony R. Smith the day before.
"It's DNR's boat," said Eagle Harbor Marina harbormaster Doug Crow.
A towing plan for the vessel has been approved by the Coast Guard, and following an OK from a marina in Port Townsend where the tugboat will be taken, the 100-year-old tug is expected to leave Bainbridge Island later this week.
The owner of the tug still has a chance to regain custody of the boat.
According to the "Notice Of Intent To Obtain Custody" posted on the vessel itself, "After taking custody, DNR may use or dispose of it [the vessel] without further notice. The owner is responsible for all related costs."
If the owner wants to reclaim the vessel or challenge the decision, he must file a written appeal with the Pollution Control Hearings Board.
"There's a 30-day appeal period for anybody who thinks they own it," Crow said last week.
The vessel is expected to be moved by Global Diving & Salvage, the company that helped raise the vessel after is slipped to the bottom of Eagle Harbor while still at its moorage spot last year.
Crow said he personally didn't know where the vessel would be moved to, but he was certain where it would not be going ever again.
"It's not going to come back to the marina if I have anything to say about it," he said.
DNR spokeswoman Toni Droscher said last week that the owner had not, as of then, filed an appeal. She also said that no exact tow date had been set.
The appeal from the owner, or anyone claiming to be the owner, must be received no later than Tuesday, Feb. 18, according to the notice.
It also states, "The owner waives the right to a hearing if the hearings board does not receive an appeal on or before the appeal date. The owner is then responsible for any costs incurred by DNR responding to the vessel."
Listed specifically are costs such as removal and disposal costs, costs associated with environmental damages caused by the vessel either directly or indirectly, and all administrative costs incurred by DNR.
Smith will face criminal charges including one count of theft in the first degree, one charge of causing a vessel to become abandoned or derelict and one count of discharge of polluting matters into state waters.
The charges, along with separate charges relating to a similar incident in Pierce County, are the first environmental crimes involving derelict vessels to be filed by the state of Washington, state officials said last week.
In addition to the penalties for abandoning the vessel and polluting the waters, theft in the first degree is a Class B felony, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and a $20,000 fine plus restitution, assessments and court costs.
Smith will be arraigned and submit a plea to the charges Wednesday, Jan. 29, said State Attorney General Office spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie on Thursday.
According to court documents, Smith paid first and last month's moorage fees to Eagle Harbor Marina after piloting the "Chickamauga" there in February 2013. Smith failed to make any other payments on his moorage fees, and failed to respond to requests by the harbormaster to address the failing condition of the boat.
Marina officials said earlier they had been unable to contact Smith, who was reportedly living in Alaska and claimed the tugboat was actually owned by his ex-wife.