New program keeps junked boats at bay
October 20, 2011
Abandoned boats have become a vexing problem in the past several years as owners unable to sell or maintain their vessels give up and walk away from them, sinking them in local harbors, ignoring them until they break from their moorings or allowing them to rot in their slips.
“People get into boating thinking it’s going to be inexpensive,” says Deputy Bryan White of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s marine operations division. “But nothing about boating is inexpensive.”
And abandoning a boat just passes on the costs to the public at large.
“We have to move it out of harm’s way so that it’s not a public nuisance, then we have to store it, then we have to go through a long process to find the owner and do a lien sale auction if the owner doesn’t’ show up,” says county Director of Beaches and Harbors Santos H. Kreimann.
If the boat has been sunk, as many are—usually after being stripped of identification—there’s the cost of retrieval and environmental mitigation. Most of the time, he says, the boats are in such bad shape by the time they’re found that they’re simply stripped and crushed, again at public expense.
Meanwhile, each boat represents four to six months or more of work for public employees. The typical abandoned boat costs taxpayers about $5,000 in staff work and another $2,000 to process the lien sale, Kreimann says.
“It’s become a worsening problem,” he says. Last year, according to the Sheriff’s Department, the county disposed of 24 abandoned boats that had been left in the marina, sunk in local waters or allowed to wash up on county beaches, but authorities expect that number to rise to 30 or more this year.
For some time, the county has underwritten the cost of the problem with grants from a state fund earmarked for the abatement of abandoned recreational watercraft. This year, however, the county is also tapping into a second state program to encourage owners to voluntarily turn in their vessels before they reach the point of abandonment.
The pilot Vessel Turn-In Program, or “VTIP”, allows owners to surrender unwanted boats without any penalty if they’re thinking of walking away, says Denise Peterson, boating law enforcement manager for the state Department of Boating and Waterways, which administers both programs.
The idea, she says, is to save money on the boat disposal by retrieving more boats from slips, rather than from underwater or public beaches, where the retrieval and storage can be up to ten times more costly and much more complex.
“The marinas usually know who’s delinquent on slip fees, or soon-to-be delinquent,” she says. “This program allows them to reach out to these owners and say, ‘Don’t worry, you’re free and clear, let us take care of it. It saves a lot in administrative costs.”
This week, the Board of Supervisors approved a $1,700 county match requirement for a $17,000 grant that will allow Los Angeles County to launch a VTIP program this year. A second vote enabled the county to access some $50,000 in state funds for the disposal of at least ten boats that have already been abandoned, a substantial increase from the county’s state grant last year.
White, who administers the abandoned watercraft grants out of the sheriff’s Marina Del Rey station, says the department plans to contact dock masters to “to see who’s in distress and trying to get rid of their boats”.
Members of the public who are considering boat abandonment also are invited to contact the department about the program at (310) 482-6033.