This winter, one island owner of three stored derelict boats sink in Friday Harbor in less than two months. Debris, fuel and chemicals went into the water and the cleanup cost the public more than $21,000.
San Juan County and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are beginning an expanded effort under the county's local Derelict Vessel Removal Program (DVRP) to identify and deal with problem vessels before they sink and pollute the area's waters.
The local program has been proactive, however, it is difficult under the statutes to address vessels which have are not clearly ready to sink but have a high potential for becoming a risk.
The need for this new effort at responsible vessel ownership was made clear recently in Penn Cove on Whidbey Island. A vessel owner ignored state laws and repeated calls for the compliance or removal of the vessel.
Without an enforcement process in place, the vessel remained in the water until it burned and sank, releasing hundreds of gallons of fuel into delicate shellfish waters.
Many of the coves in our islands have vessels that have been stored out on buoys for years, some in rough shape and clearly abandoned. A few local owners have been responsible for multiple derelicts.
Under Washington State marine laws, the county and DNR will work with area volunteers and the county Sheriff’s Office to document vessels with expired registrations, those anchored or buoyed out on unpermitted buoys for far more that the 30 days allowed, and those apparently abandoned.
These are frequently the boats that break loose in storms and cause damage to other boats or sink. When that happens, the pollution has been released into the water and a far greater amount of public funds are needed to deal with the clean-up and disposal of the hulk.
The Sheriff’s Office has had few resources to document the conditions of vessels over time, and this is where the use of volunteers will be helpful. They can aid greatly in documenting boats with problems, after which the county may encourage compliance and work with owners to make needed changes.
If all else fails, the Sheriff will enforce the laws as he deems necessary. Some illegally dropped buoys may also be addressed.
DNR will assist in this effort, both by working with vessel owners and with funding a large part of the effort.
The county does need to fund some of this effort. San Juan County Action Agenda Oversight Group gave the county a grant to pay for program startup and the Port of Friday Harbor is providing some operating funds.
Additional funding will be required but can be matched nine-fold by DNR. For more information, please call Joanruth Baumann, DVRP coordinator at 206-999-0547 or firstname.lastname@example.org.