Help sought for removal of derelict boats

OLYMPIA — Govs. Chris Gregoire of Washington and John Kitzhaber of Oregon on Friday called for federal help to remove derelict vessels from their states’ waterways.

The governors joined the Coast Guard on a helicopter flyover of the Columbia River, where officials have identified 33 boats that have been abandoned or are in serious disrepair. Officials are concerned that they could leak or sink, spilling oil or other hazardous materials into the river.

Gregoire and Kitzhaber say they want a joint federal-state initiative to address the issue. They say they want more accountability requirements, including for vessel owners to maintain proper registration and to remove any pollution risks from their vessels when they dispose of them or sell them. They also want owners to show proof that they can afford to maintain or properly dispose the vessels they have purchased.

“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 a written statement.

Gregoire said the state needs tougher legislation to prevent neglected boats, and authority to hold boat owners “to a higher degree of accountability.”

The governors are also asking the federal government to take a lead role on derelict vessels, and to increase financial resources for their removal.

Gregoire said that in addition to environmental concerns, abandoned boats can run adrift and create navigational problems.

After Friday’s flyover, Gregoire told The Associated Press it was “a huge problem with no real rules, regulations, laws, accountability or resources that we would just never accept on land and somehow we’ve allowed to be accepted on water.”

Last year, the Davy Crockett, a former World War II transport vessel, broke apart and leaked oil into the Columbia River before sinking. It cost nearly $24 million to remove the vessel and contain the contamination.

Earlier this month, crews raised a derelict fishing vessel that sank in Penn Cove in Puget Sound. Its leaked oil had been threatening Whidbey Island’s famous Penn Cove mussel beds.

Gregoire and Kitzhaber pledged to work with the Coast Guard, the state Legislature and the maritime industry, among others, to quickly remove derelict vessels.

Gregoire said she would be looking at potential legislation with Oregon, as well as in Congress.

“Oregon and Washington’s shared waterways are too important environmentally, economically and socially to have people using them for backyard salvage operations,” Kitzhaber said in a written statement.

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