In sour economy, boats being left to rot

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The state says the boat was abandoned.

The owner says he was in the “long-term” process of restoring it. The bottom line is the boat is now in a landfill and the owner has been ordered to pay $13,855 for the salvage and disposal.

Abandoned boats are increasingly becoming a chronic problem for communities across the country.

Jon Shaw Lore Jr., 47, was charged with abandoning his 35-foot wooden 1967 Chris-Craft with twin 350-hp Commander inboard engines after it washed ashore Oct. 26, 2008 on a Maryland beach.

In addition to the salvage fee, Lore was given a six-month jail term, suspended, and placed on unsupervised probation for 18 months.

Economy is a factor

The Maryland case is representative of a chronic national problem. A recent article by Soundings writer Chris Landry reported that while abandoned or derelict boats have been a problem for decades, the problem is likely to get worse as boat owners walk away from vessels and governments do not have the fiscal resources to clean up after them.

Doug Helton, operations coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, says the problem is increasing in all coastal areas.

“It’s expensive to maintain a boat and the economic climate hasn’t helped,” says Helton.

While NOAA has no nationwide listing of the number of vessels abandoned each year, it is looking to develop one in the near future. Helton says NOAA was slated to hold a workshop in September discussing this very issue. Officials from coastal states, as well as other federal organizations, have been invited to gather in Miami to see what can be done not only to minimize the problem, but what to do with the debris.

“Some states have instituted abandoned vessel funds to help with this problem,” says Helton. “Washington state includes a fee in their boater registration for an abatement fund for this very purpose.”

Helton says more often than not it is more expensive for an owner to dispose of a derelict vessel than it is to let it sit in the water and fall apart.

“It’s the idea behind making the right thing to do also the easy thing to do, which is not the case right now,” says Helton.

Dragged by storm

In the Maryland case, boat owner Lore insists he didn’t abandon the vessel.

“The boat was moored during a storm and was dragged to the shoreline,” he says. “The rudders and the shaft stuck on the beach and it needed a storm tide to get it off the beach.”

Lore was ordered May 22 to pay the $13,855 salvage cost to St. Mary’s County within 18 months, according to Capt. Robert Davis of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources police. He was originally charged Nov. 28, 2008 with abandoning the vessel and found guilty April 9 of abandoning his boat in state waters. The actual salvage took place Feb. 9.

According to Officer R. Fisher of the DNR police, the boat was in such a deteriorated condition it broke apart during salvage, and the pieces were processed and destroyed.

Lore says he had moored the boat last August on Cuckold Creek off the Potomac River near the shores of Myrtle Point Park in St. Mary’s County. He says the boat had been moored there for a couple months and admits neighbors had complained about its presence. The DNR says there is no designated mooring field in the area.

After the vessel was driven ashore, it was reported by locals to the DNR.

Mostly wooden boats

“We get about 130 calls a year about missing boats,” says Robert Gaudette, director of boating services for the state DNR. “Of those, we may end up having to remove 23 a year on average.”

Gaudette says owners get a 30-day notice to remove the vessel and, after that, salvage crews are hired to dispose of them. “This is a significant problem because many of these vessels could be leaking fuel or oil,” says Gaudette. “In most cases, it is old wooden boats; very rarely do we see fiberglass.”

However, Lore maintains his boat was no threat to the environment because it had no fuel in it. He says he was in a long-term process of restoring his boat, but once it was beached he was unable to drag it off the beach.

Tracking Lore down was easy for investigators since the vessel identification numbers were still on the boat sides. “Sometimes people cut the numbers off with a chainsaw” to avoid having it traced back to them, says Gaudette.

A crime in Maryland

Once a state salvage has been completed, wooden boats are typically ground up and taken to a landfill, he says. On the rare occasion the boat is still in good shape, it will be auctioned off by the Department of Natural Resources.

In general, Gaudette says, abandoned boats are not a big problem in Maryland because it is a criminal offense.

Ron Sarver, deputy director of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, says the organization encourages states to criminalize boat abandonment, but has no data on how many do.

“We have been hearing that it’s becoming more of a problem in more states,” says Sarver.

Gaudette says Maryland processed 36 abandoned boat cases last year. It physically disposed of 34 of the boats, which is a little higher than in an average year.

Gaudette says they have had 16 confirmed reports of abandoned boats so far this year; the state average is about 56 cases annually.

This article originally appeared in the Mid-Atlantic Home Waters Section of the October 2009 issue.