EVERETT — For months, they hid along the out-of-sight edges of the Snohomish River, bunched together on the riverbank of misfit boats.
A cabin cruiser and two sailboats, in various stages of decay, are joining dozens of other junk boats that have been removed from the river in recent years, thanks to Snohomish County Surface Water Management and the Department of Natural Resources’ Derelict Vessel Removal Program.
The cruiser, known as Tolly’s Folly, and a sailboat were hauled out of the river in mid-October, along with another boat abandoned near Jetty Island. The remaining vessel, a small, yellow sailboat, was in worse-than-anticipated condition and requires additional equipment, said Elisa Dawson, senior planner for the county division. Crews are to remove it next week.
If left unattended, the boats pose a threat to the water, aquatic life or people who travel across the river by spilling oil or leaving behind debris, she said.
“It’s really unfortunate that area has so many boats,” Dawson said. “This is prime habitat” for wildlife.
The three boats in the river weren’t alone. There are five others moored there.
“We specifically focused on ones that were going to create the most environmental benefit, as well as how much money we had,” Dawson said.
In total, scrapping all four boats cost the county about $50,000 — essentially depleting the annual budget for vessel removals.
But the state program will reimburse the county for all expenses, which Dawson hopes will go toward more removals in 2021.
“That allows us to create this revolving fund that allows us to keep doing derelict vessel removal,” she said.
In March and June, Dawson reported the boats to the state. In September, she filed notices for the county to take custody of each of the abandoned vessels.
For years, the river has had a problem with old, junk boats. Bigger ones, like the 100-feet-long Midas, have sat beached in the sand for years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove. Others, like a sinking house boat or grounded sailboat, are easier to haul out.
When Dawson reported three of the boats in June, she was on a different mission to clean up local waters.
Accompanied by a team from Seattle-based Environmental Science Associates, she spent four days documenting all of the river’s pilings — the wooden columns that are buried in sediment along the shore and stick out of the water.
With a motorboat, GPS device and notepad, the group found and mapped the river’s 15,564 pilings. That work culminated in a report on the pilings, as well as their condition and threat to the environment, for the county’s Marine Resources Committee, an advisory group for the Surface Water Management division.
All together, the state, county, Port of Everett, Tulalip Tribes and cities of Everett and Marysville, in addition to 11 private companies, each own some property with at least 175 pilings.
“We’ve all been curious about the pilings,” Dawson said. “We haven’t had comprehensive data on them. … We certainly wonder what the history of some of them is.”
With the report, the governments and companies can go through each piling and determine its ecological benefit and whether it should be removed from the river.
A lot of the pilings are remnants of the logging industry that once dominated Everett, she said. Others are just fir logs.
About one-sixth of them contain creosote, a tar-based treatment previously used to preserve wood that is also bad for the environment.
“We’re not suggesting that every piling has to be removed,” she said. “Especially if they’re not creosote.”
Some pilings provide ecological benefits. If they’re old enough, they’ll create vegetation that gives shade, which is good for salmon. Others rack up drift wood or stabilize river banks.
“Plenty of them have purposes,” Dawson said.
But the report’s analysis shows about 7,000 of them, which are mostly owned by the state, are a high-priority for removal. But there’s no plan to scrap any, yet.
Going forward, the county’s Marine Resources Committee will meet with the government agencies and businesses involved to discuss next steps, Dawson said.