[dropcap]I[/dropcap] love boating. It’s a great escape. Any excuse will pretty much work for me. I even like boating in the rain – simply because I feel a complete emersion or connection to the water. But some boats, I don’t like. Unfortunately, the Louisiana coast is littered with abandoned, derelict boats. Many are there due to past hurricanes carrying boats from their moorings or harbors and depositing them far away. After Hurricane Katrina, I found my canoe 5 miles away hanging in a tree. I was driving down Highway 11 when it caught my eye… “How bizarre, there’s a canoe in that tree …. wait a minute that’s my canoe!”
I retrieved the canoe only for it to be permanently lost in Hurricane Isaac.
We have all seen the abandoned boats. Often, we see them sticking out of the water covered in slime, or falling apart to become debris on the bottom. Two weeks ago, deep inside a marsh several miles from any water with adequate draft, I saw a 25 foot cabin cruiser lying on its side. It looked so bizarrely out of place – like a whale in a cow pasture. Fiberglass does not biodegrade and so that boat will sit there for decades. These boats are always a bit sad to see for a boater: someone’s lost dream. Nevertheless, the real issues are that the derelict boats can be: a navigation hazard, an environmental threat (fuel, oil plastics), and often a great eyesore. Some abandoned boats have been there so long they’re navigation references, but often they’re just blight on the beautiful marsh that we spend our Saturday’s visiting. I believe most would agree, we have a lot of abandoned boats, and it would be great to remove them, but here’s the rub. It is dang hard to do it.
The cost of removal is not the biggest issue. A key challenge is that boats are registered and that registration is there to protect the owners. No one wants to encourage anyone to take a docked boat simply because someone thinks it’s abandoned. Boats are registered for good reason and there is a process to remove boats, but it is done individually and takes time. Someone needs to ID the boat and report that is abandoned. Then there is a waiting period for someone to claim the boat. After that, the boat may be removed, but often there is a question of access. If private land is going to be used to access the boat, the landowner must grant permission. Additionally, the landowner will likely want security that the land will not be harmed and they will not be exposed to some liability. You see the problem? All of this just to get the “right” to dispose of garbage. And of course, there is the cost. Since there could be hazardous materials, it may require special handling and disposal.
So what’s a possible solution? We need to protect legitimate, responsible boat owners, but find a way to ease the bureaucracy so that true abandoned boats can be removed. First, we need some state legislation which deals with the particular issues of abandoned vessels on the scale of the problem we have. For example, inventory alleged abandoned boats and post these on the internet. Give a 90 day period with aggressive advertising. After the 90 days, the boats are declared abandoned, and parishes, USCG, State agencies are allowed to find resources to remove the boats. Landowners need to be respected, but authorities should find ways of standardizing procedures and protocols so that land owners will understand the rules and try to avoid case-by-case negotiations. Many landowners own large tracts. Possibly make deals to remove boats from an entire tract of land. FEMA and some state funds might be available for specific circumstances. Some states collect special fees dedicated to removal of vessels. No one likes taxes, unless we know they’re going to be used a good, specific purpose. We need to find a means to simplify and fund derelict vessel removal along our coast.
LPBF plans to approach state legislators and state agency officials to discuss how we can find ways to more easily and aggressively remove abandoned boats. There are no good reasons why rational approaches can’t be developed which protect landowners and responsible boat owners, while removing this coastal trash.