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That sinking feeling: Cleaning up abandoned boats

sunk boat on Duwamish 010.jpg
Liam Moriarty
This adandoned boat sank in the Duwamish River in Tukwila about two months ago. DNR says the city is going through the required process of trying to notify the boat's owner. If the owner doesn't deal with the boat by mid-February, the city will take over.

So, you live near a marina -- or a river or lake -- and you notice that an old, possibly-abandoned boat is sinking.

Who you gonna call?

Your first thought might be to notify the local police or fire department. Bryan Flint says that might work, or it might not.

“Local jurisdictions have authority. Some do and some don’t, in terms of removing derelict vessels.”

Flint is with the state Department of Natural Resources. He says many times, local officials are reluctant to take on that job.

It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to safely clean up a derelict boat, and often the owners of these craft are unable to pay that cost, or can’t even be located. So that’s an expense many cash-strapped localities may not be eager to take on.

Flint says local jurisdictions have expressed concern about liability, too.

A pair of bills pending before the state legislature would help on both counts.

The measures would increase the amount of money local officials could be reimbursed from a state fund dedicated to paying for derelict vessel removal. For the current two-year budget cycle, there’s $1.7 million set aside for that purpose.

The bills would also grant immunity to locals so they couldn’t be held liable for any damages that might occur during removal.

There are currently more than 200 problem boats waiting to be cleaned up across Washington. Bryan Flint says DNR can’t handle them all.

“So we’re trying to encourage local jurisdictions to participate as partners with us in removing derelict vessels.”

Economic hard times and heavy storms can lead to more abandoned boats. But the number on the waiting list hasn’t varied much, even though officials have stepped up clean-up efforts in recent years.

Last year, 47 vessels were removed from state waterways.