Abandoned boat is causing a sinking feeling for locals

POULSBO — A sunken boat off the eastern shore of Liberty Bay may possibly be nobody’s problem.

But neighbors along Fjord Drive say it’s everybody’s problem.

“This bay is a fragile ecosystem and something needs to be done,” commented Gene Fullerton, who lives near where the vessel sank last week.

“The bay becoming a dumping ground and becoming polluted by things like this doesn’t appeal to me at all,” added Poulsbo Fire Department Chief Jim Shields, who has become involved in the sinking.

A 25-foot wooden cabin boat sank Jan. 27 in Liberty Bay, just below Net Shed Park and just outside of the Port of Poulsbo’s breakwater. The vessel had been docked at the Port of Poulsbo but its owner defaulted on moorage payments and towed it to its current location. Fullerton, who lives by Net Shed Park, said the boat’s derelict condition made him and his neighbors worry about its sinking potential and they reported it months ago to what they thought were the proper authorities.

“We’ve called and other people have called,” Fullerton said. “This boat has been sitting there sinking for months and months. But it just sank overnight.”

Shields said his crews were called to the scene last Thursday when it was noticed that the vessel was beginning to sink. In sinking cases at a marina, where someone is present to take charge of the boat, PFD crews will usually pump out a sinking vessel, there was nothing that could be done.

Shields said since the incident, he has made calls to a handful of entities including the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Port of Poulsbo and City of Poulsbo but none have yet claimed jurisdiction.

“It’s one of those cans of worms. Nobody wants to take responsibility for it,” Shields said.

The Coast Guard does have a Salvage Engineering Response Team (SERT) that covers the Puget Sound area. Between 1990 and 2002, the 24-hour response SERT was deployed more than 40 times and helped with more than 250 sinkings. But the primary focus of the group is to deal with vessels that are either blocking navigable routes or leaking fuel — neither of which have been determined to apply to the Poulsbo boat.

The DNR also has a derelict boat removal program, which is funded by a portion of annual vessel registration fees. The program allows the DNR to dispose of an abandoned or derelict vessel at the request of a jurisdiction. The only problem is that the program requires matching funds from those requesting the removal.

The Port of Poulsbo was the first public port to take part in the program in early 2003, however, Port Commission President Tony DeCarlo explained that the previous boat was abandoned within port boundaries. The current boat’s resting place is not within the marina’s property lines. Commissioner Glenn Gilbert plans on meeting with city representatives soon to try and determine a next step.

“We talked about whether we should do something or not but once we tie up to it, it’s our responsibility,” DeCarlo said. “We wanted to see what the city wanted to do first.”

Poulsbo Mayor Donna Jean Bruce said she, too, has been in thick of the issue but is still unclear what, if anything, will happen on the city’s side. Poulsbo Municipal Code section 12.28.135 outlines steps that should be taken to remove abandoned or derelict vessels from city waters. But Bruce said she has called City Attorney Jim Haney about the matter because she is not sure if the area belongs to Poulsbo or not.

“Nobody seems to be able to really determine that,” she commented. “That’s why I called the city attorney.”

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