Derelict Vessel Recovery
Derelict and abandoned vessels are a problem in the waters of Washington State, including the San Juan Islands. They pose hazards to navigation, detract from the aesthetics of the area and are a significant source of marine debris as well as hazardous materials in marine waters and along beaches when they sink. Removing and disposing of derelict vessels before they sink saves money and prevents environmental damage.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources has managed a program since 2003 which provides funding and guidance to local jurisdictions to help remove and dispose of these vessels. The local jurisdiction is reimbursed for up to 90% of the costs to remove and dispose of these vessels. San Juan County was part of this program until 2008 when, due to budget constraints, it ended the local program.
The program had great success from 2003 to 2008, raising and removing over 50 vessels and removing others from the beaches. Since the program ended in 2008 there have been reports of sinking vessels that have not been recovered.
A1 Marine Services of Friday Harbor was a contractor for derelict vessel removal program and the owner, Terry Whalen, proposed a monitoring program to check the waters for potentially derelict vessels, provide an outreach program to inform boat owners of their responsibilities and ultimately keep vessels from sinking and polluting. He made the point that salvaging a large boat, 40-70 feet long, from shallow water would cost about $85,000, while towing one to Bellingham for disposal before it sank would cost $2,500. That’s an $82,500 savings by catching the problem early!
MRC Action on the Derelict Vessel Program
Barbara Marrett, Port of Friday Harbor Commissioner and an MRC member saw the need to resurrect the Derelict Vessel Removal Program in San Juan County. She worked with Terry Whalen to publicize the problem wherever and however they could and worked with County officials to develop potential ways to start the program again. Their combined efforts and a variety of contacts by the MRC brought great attention to the problem, but for a long time yielded little of a solution.
Finally, in 2010, after a presentation about the problem, the local Power Squadron raised a significant amount of money toward resurrecting the program. The MRC promised some funds as did a local group, the Common Sense Alliance. The Port of Friday Harbor offered up to $10,000 in in-kind services to assist. The grass root efforts of these groups and the MRC caught the attention of the County and, with logistics and assistance from the MRC staff, the County voted to reinstate the program in July, 2011.
Photo credit: Journal of the San Juans