Legislature should pass measure on derelict vessels | Our Opinion | Jan. 21

Legislation aimed at cleaning up derelict and abandoned boats and other vessels from state waters was introduced this past week in the Senate and House. If passed, the measure would hold boat owners more accountable by making it a misdemeanor offense and would provide local governments with the same liability immunity that emergency responders now have under state law.

It’s about time.

The legislation has been instigated by the Department of Natural Resources in an effort to support the ongoing effort to restore the health of state waters, especially Puget Sound. Sen. Phil Rockefeler (d-23rd) and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34th) are sponsors of the agency-requested measures.

For decades, irresponsible boat owners have been ridding themselves of vessels that are no longer seaworthy because of neglect or by deliberately allowing it to sink in order to collect on an insurance policy. When a boat is abandoned in the middle of a large body of water, for example, one of two events usually occurs: it sinks or is beached. Bainbridge is often the endpoint for the latter, especially Rockaway Beach, Murden Cove and any of the beaches south to Wing Point.

Environmentally, the legislation, which sponsors say would not lead to additional expense, is critical because most of those derelict boats end up leaking toxic materials into the water. They also often become navigational headaches.

While the budget crisis has perhaps slowed the effort to clean up Puget Sound, making those who sometimes pollute the waters responsible for their actions is a way to directly raise funds for cleanup.

Equally important, perhaps, is the part of the legislation that gives immunity to public entities. That will make it easier for the City of Bainbridge Island and Kitsap County to respond to abandoned boats in their jurisdiction; currently they are not protected from lawsuits as are other emergency responders.

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