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Derelict boats target of House bill

OLYMPIA––What to do with that old boat?

After the dream of boat ownership becomes a nightmare for an owner who can’t maintain or repair a boat, some “dispose” of their boat by casting it adrift or sinking it anywhere that’s convenient.

Derelict boats and boats sunk in area harbors become a safety hazard for area ports; then local authorities find themselves in a legal limbo when they try to seize or move the boat.

A legislative solution, HCR440, proposed by Rep. Phil Rockefeller, (D) Bainbridge Island, would provide clear legal authority for cities, counties or port authorities or the Department of Natural Resources itself to address the problem.

The “Derelict Vessel Disposal” bill provides definition and a timetable for a local jurisdiction to seize a vessel, dispose of it and clean up the site if it was sunk.

“Often there is a problem,” Rockefeller explained, “that there is no money to deal with the vessel. First, government agencies would try to determine the ownership of the boat (which is sometimes quite difficult). The goal is to hold the legal owner accountable.”

Often, the legal owner can’t be found, or has no money to deal with the problem.

That’s a problem Rockefeller also hopes to address in his bill.

“We would like to create a fund that would be composed in some portion of the registration fee paid by boaters,” Rockefeller said.

The fund would be administered by the Department of Natural Resources and could be used by the cities and counties if the owner can’t cover the costs.

Rockefeller said he has also been in contact with the Washington Recreational Boaters Association to explore the possibility of their organization paying part of the costs.

“If individual boaters aren’t held accountable, we shouldn’t put the costs on the backs of general taxpayers. Why not have the community most directly affected assist in creating and benefitting from the fund? That way they won’t run into the drifting boats or have problems,” Rockefeller explained.

Rockefeller is primary sponsor of the bill, which will be submitted to the Natural Resources Committee this week. The proposed legislation had passed the House 93-0 during last year’s legislative session, but then bogged down in the House Rules Committee.

A cautionary tale of one derelict boat

Nearly four years ago, Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island authorities found themselves in a legal wrangle with Oscar Bailey, who had anchored his aged freighter KED in Eagle Harbor. Claiming “pressure” from Bainbridge officials, Bailey moved his boat to Liberty Bay in March.

Worried that Bailey would be the first of a vanguard of liveaboards, Poulsbo amended its liveaboard ordinance, cutting the number of days from 90 to 21 that a boat can be anchored outside the port without a permit.

After incurring a fine at the rate of $1,000 a day, Bailey agreed to move the KED out of Liberty Bay. Then the boat’s engine malfunctioned. The freighter had to be towed farther south to allow the fireworks barge to be brought in for the Third of July celebration.

To the relief of local officials, the KED left Liberty Bay one night in July, 1998, eliminating the need for further action or expense by the City of Poulsbo.

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