Will they stay or will they go?

Published on Thu, Nov 28, 2002 by Meg Olson Photo by LittleRainDrop

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Will they stay or will they go?

By Meg Olson
Photo by LittleRainDrop

The fishing vessels Liberty and USA continue to sit in a jurisdictional limbo, sinking into the mud on the western shore of Drayton Harbor.

The boats have been there since the end of October, when owner Warren Hanson was evicted from Blaine Harbor as part of the Port of Bellingham’s derelict boat program. “We have identified 30 vessels we deemed unseaworthy and gave the owners the opportunity to prove their seaworthiness. He didn’t respond to us,” said portmaster Pam Taft. After the port issued an eviction notice, she said Hanson moved the boats himself. He could not be reached for comment. Port Executive director Jim Darling said most owners of derelict boats had addressed the problem. “They want to protect their investment,” he said.

In the last week Foss Environmental, retained by the U.S. Coast Guard, has placed booms around the vessels to keep a growing slick of oil and fuel from creeping further into the harbor. They also removed 750 gallons of fuel and 33 marine batteries from the vessels as well as any hazardous waste found on deck.

That’s where the Coast Guard’s responsibility will end, said Mark Henderson of the state department of ecology at the November 20 meeting of the Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District Advisory Committee (DHSPDAC). “By law the Coast Guard can board these vessels and get the fuel off but they leave the crankcase oil,” he said. To completely eliminate risk of environmental damage he said the boats would have to be moved and dismantled ashore. “The booms will work well unless a storm really kicks up,” he said. However, there remains the question of who will pay to dispose of the boats.

“We haven’t found a pot of money to get them out,” Henderson said. He added the city of Blaine was also looking for some way to pay for the boats’ disposal.

Alan Birdsall from the Port of Bellingham agreed with committee members it would have been better to find a solution before the boats were beached, but there are no funds to deal vessels abandoned by their owners. “There are federal funds for cleanup after it happens but not before,” he said. “The port isn’t a bottomless pit.”

DHSPDAC committee president Geoff Menzies said modest leakage wasn’t as mundane as it might appear from the shore. “I’ve heard some people say we should just leave them there, but what are the spinoffs?” he asked. “We have boats that just landed on our forage fish eggs. We should worry.” Menzies said damage to bait fish stocks could impact local salmon runs, and oil and gas could make it across the bay to affect oysters at the community oyster farm. “How much it takes to kill them I don’t know, but it just takes a little sheen for the product to have that oily smell,” he said.

At Blaine city council November 25 city manager Gary Tomsic said they had prepared a violation notice for dumping the boats on the publicly owned tidelands but they had not served it to Hanson. “We don’t know where he is,” Tomsic said. He said they had solicited a bid from a private company to remove the vessels and dispose of them. “The price tag was $36,400,” he said. “We don’t have $36,400 for that purpose and we haven’t been able to identify a source of funds.” He said a number of local individuals and companies had offered to help, from diver and shipwright Mark Gumley to the local garbage hauler. “The first option would be for the owner to take care of it,” Tomsic said. The least desirable alternative, he said, was “to leave them there and let them become a tourist attraction.”

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