Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire are scheduled to fly over the Columbia and Willamette rivers today to get a bird’s eye view of the derelict and abandoned vessels languishing in those waters.
Aboard a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, the governors likely will see some of the larger vessels that are easy to spot by air.
A regional Derelict Vessel Task Force has identified 40 “vessels of concern” in those waters and a short distance up the coast. At least half of them range between 100 feet and 181 feet long. The task force’s list shows that the pollution threat of many of these vessels remains unknown.
The $22 million cleanup of the derelict Davy Crockett from the Columbia River in 2011 and the more recent recovery and cleanup of the sunken Deep Sea in the Puget Sound have drawn attention to similar vessels.
In both of those incidents, thousands of gallons of oil were removed from the vessels during the recoveries and unknown quantities of fuel leaked into the water as well. The Deep Sea was illegally moored near commercial shellfish beds.
Washington’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program has documented more than 200 abandoned or derelict vessels in that state’s waters.
Both states have derelict vessel programs. But neither state has the authority or the funding to remove large vessels such as the LST-1166. Major changes like that would require legislative action.
In March, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality sent Governor Kitzhaber a Derelict Vessel Task Force Progress Report.It recommends some statutory changes, such as giving the state authority over neglected vessels with known owners, or “derelict” vessels. The current law addresses only “abandoned” vessels.
Rachel Bullene with the Oregon State Marine Board, said that the board also is working on other statutory recommendations, including:
Giving all public bodies authority to remove derelict or abandoned vessels. (Only law enforcement agencies and ports have that authority.)
Giving those with authority to remove vessels immunity from civil liability when they do that work.
Creating a pilot “vessel-turn-in” program for recreational boats.
UPDATE (Friday p.m.): Governors Kitzhaber and Gregoire released a joint press release after their Columbia River flyover today. They called for a federal-state initiative that would include federal financial support and changes to the state derelict and/or abandoned vessel programs.
They called for “clearer procedures and lines of responsibility for addressing derelict vessels that would allow for regulatory agencies to inspect and remove pollution sources from vessels that are abandoned, trespassing on state land, or are at risk of sinking.”
Gregoire also wants to hold the owners of the vessels responsible for their property.
“We would never allow someone to simply abandon their broken-down car on their front lawn, and expect the public to pay to clean it up,” Gregoire said in the press release. “And tax payers shouldn’t be expected to cover the costs of removing derelict vessels. We need tougher legislation to prevent these vessels from becoming derelict in the first place. And we need the authority to hold boat owners to a higher degree of accountability.”
VESSELS OF CONCERN Following the $22 million Davy Crockett cleanup, agencies united to form the Derelict Vessel Task Force. So far, they have identified 41 vessels to monitor. Sizes range from small floating homes to the LST 1166, which is 373 feet long.
Source: Derelict Vessel Task Force; Credit: Arashi Young/OPB
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