• Tax dollars used to clean up floating toxic junkyards

    By: Kevin McCarty

    Updated:

    They're left tied up to docks, pulled up on beaches and sometimes sent to the bottom of Puget Sound. When a boat becomes too expensive or too far gone to maintain, some owners simply leave them in the water. Taxpayers are picking up the bill.

    “At any given time we have about 150 reported to us. That number hasn't seemed to change over the years even though we've removed over 500 boats in 10 years,” said Melissa Ferris with the Washington state Department of Natural Resources.

    As part of an investigation into derelict boats, KIRO 7 reporter Kevin McCarty dove a sunken wreck sent to the bottom of Quartermaster Harbor off Vashon Island seven years ago. The Murph is a former U.S. Navy tugboat purchased by a buyer who planned to use it to start a business. That effort failed so one day in 2007 someone, possibly the owner, sank the Murph and walked away. After years of paperwork trying to track down the missing owner and determining who was responsible, the Department of Natural Resources contracted with a company to raise the Murph at a cost of more around $622,000.

    “Our budget is about 1.6 million for every two-year budget cycle and we spend all of that,” said Ferris.

    It's easy to see why the money goes so quickly. It cost more than $1 million dollars to raise the Helena Star from Tacoma's Hylebos waterway after it sank earlier this year. The Golden West, a boat tied up next to the Helena Star, sank with it. Raising and removing that vessel cost more than half a million. When the state was forced to remove the Davey Crockett from the Columbia River three years ago, it cost a total of $23 million split between state and federal agencies.

    “It taxes our resources and unfortunately taxpayers in Washington state are on the hook to foot the bill,” said Dave Byers with the state Department of Ecology.

    Much of the cost, around 85 percent, is recovered through lawsuits and other legal means. New state laws, plus an aggressive policy of suing derelict owners by the state attorney general's office, is helping to crack down on negligent owners. But the cost of derelict vessels is still greater than the budget to get rid of them and they don't seem to be going away. “Well there's certainly no shortage of derelict vessels,” said Byers.

    Next Up: