SoCal Harbors Seek Increased Funding for Derelict Vessel Disposal

SoCal Harbors Seek Increased Funding for Derelict Vessel Disposal

MARINA DEL REY — Although the old Union East gas dock at Parcel 55 in Marina del Rey hasn’t fueled a boat in years, boats still sit on its docks. The fuel dock is a temporary home to14 derelict vessels that were found in and around the marina since 2011.
Some of the vessels have been at the dock for several days; others for years. All of them are awaiting one thing: destruction. The vessels will ultimately be destroyed once the County of Los Angeles receives Abandoned Watercraft Abatement Funding (AWAF). The program provides funding from the state to help keep California’s oceans and waterways clear of abandoned vessels. But officers with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Station worry that the grant may not be enough to cover the disposal of all 14 vessels.

“We’re the second largest man made small craft harbor in the world, given the amount of vessels that we have and the economic downturn it definitely leads to a place where people can’t afford their boats,” said Deputy Bryan White with Marina del Rey Station Marine Operations.

“We do start running out of space and we will always have a need to store impounded vessels.” The dock that was to serve as a temporary stop off for the derelict boats before they headed to the salvage yard, is now overcrowded with abandoned vessels.
Boat owners currently have the option of relinquishing their vessels to the county through the Voluntary Turn In Program (VTIP), a state funded program that allows boaters to turn in derelict vessels rather than abandon them. Launched in 2010, the program has worked well with 217 vessels salvaged. However, the trouble with VTIP is that funding is significantly lower than AWAF.

Orange County, for example, will be receiving $25,000 through AWAF but only $5,000 through the VTIP grant for the 2014 year. Limited funding means harbor patrol officers can only salvage one or two boats before funding runs out.  Those funds would be dispersed between the three harbors, said Shannon Levin, Newport Beach Harbor Resources Supervisor. The city of Newport Beach will also be applying for VTIP funding, for the first time, this year.

“There’s talk right now about combining those two grants,” Deputy White said. “It’s logical, it’s the same funding source; the only difference is how we process the boat.”

Through VTIP, officers don’t have to go through the lien sale process, a method of auctioning derelict vessels before having them destroyed. After the lien sale, which White said people rarely ever come to, officers must give the vessel’s owner an additional 10 days to claim their property.

The California Boating and Waterways Commission (Cal Boating) met in February in Stockton, Calif. to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of consolidating the two programs, said Dave Lumian, commissioner on the Marina del Rey Small Craft Harbor Commission and Boating and Waterways.

“At this time I don’t see any disadvantages to it, it seems like any efficiency gained putting more resources available to the water is desirable,” he said.

AWAF has been in demand in recent years, especially between 2011 and 2012.

Waterfont communities, such as Marina del Rey, experienced a spike in boats being abandoned when the economy took a hit in 2011.

“The peak of abandoned watercrafts occurred at the peak of the economic downturn,” said Deputy White, who assisted in impounding 20 vessels from 2011- 2012. He believes that the best solution to dealing with abandoned boats is to stop them from being abandoned in the first place.

“I get a lot of phone calls from people wanting me to come pick up their boat; but the thing about the VTIP is we don’t pick up and we don’t store vessels,” Deputy White explained. “But, if the person comes to the station, submits their title and signs a hazardous material form and a turn over form, we can take the boat right over to disposal facilities and have it crushed and disposed of.”

Officers began to store the abandoned vessels at the station’s dock but eventually had to secure a new holding area when the numbers of boats being abandoned began to spike. Luckily,

Parcel 55 is currently awaiting redevelopment.

Every other week it seems as though new boats are being added to the boats waiting to be salvaged. The newest guest to the station’s dock is an unnamed 1957 wooden sailboat with the Hull Identification Number 3.

“That means it’s the third of its kind the manufacturer,” Deputy White said. “It’s a shame to see it disposed, if I had the time I’d take it and work on it as a project.”

Instead the vessel, which was obtained after being unlawfully moored in the harbor, will go through a lien sale process, and if it doesn’t sell, eventually be destroyed. Derelict vessels in Marina del Rey end up in three places : (1) illegally moored in a vacant slip at a private marina, (2) tied up at the park docks or launch ramp, or (3) drifting off shore or near the beach. In most cases the reasoning for abandoning a vessel is lack of options and desperation, White said.

“It cost about $1.50 per foot per day for storage, there’s a $50 tow fee and it’s $100 a foot to dispose of a vessel,” said Deputy Richard Godfrey with Marina del Rey Station Marine Operations. “Right now my VTIP funding for this next cycle is $8,000. After two 40 foot boats, there goes my grant.”

Santa Barbara Harbor, which offers free anchorage, is another hot spot for derelict vessels in Southern California.

“Just this year we’ve gotten rid of about five boats,” said Mick Kronman, Santa Barbara Harbor Operations manager. “Abandoned vessels is just a huge problem in Santa Barbara; we have free anchorage so people will come who don’t have much money and dock their boats for free.”

Voluntarily turned in vessels are a dime a dozen, most all of them are old 22 to 27 foot sailboats, said Steven McCullough, Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol supervisor.

“We can refuse to take boats,” he added. “We’re not going to take any boat that comes through here just because they don’t want to pay $100 to send it to the boat yard.”

If there’s a chance that the boat will be abandoned McCullough will take it, but there’s also a large number of people who will call him to junk old hulls they’ve scrapped.

“I say take it to the dock,” he said, “If someone can trailer their own boat to the dock, then they should do so.”

With so little available funding, careful selection of which boats to grant disposal through VTIP is a necessity.

“It costs $84 per ton to [dispose of a vessel]; I’ve had a 55 foot power boat from the 1920s turned in – now that boat cost a lot of money to get rid of,” McCullough said.

In November 2011, McCullough assigned Harbor Marine Works to haul a 40 ton vintage powerboat with a crane.

“That boat just barely got out of the water, it was the max the crane could lift,” he recalled. After stripping and destroying the boat, McCullough orchestrated a parade of 40 yard roll off trucks to dispose of the boat.

“It was six or eight thousand dollars when it was all said and done,” he added.

With the exception of the old powerboat, most voluntarily turned in vessels are no bigger than 20 feet, McCullough said. And in comparison to the AWAF program which has expended $1.5 million since 2010 for a total of 339 removed vessels and hazards, VTIP has only expended $371,000 while removing 217 vessels. The average cost per boat disposal, is also significantly less — $4,400 for AWAF and $1,700 for VTIP.

One solution for cheaper boat disposal could be in house services such as those implemented at the Port of Los Angeles. The port utilizes Berth 104, as well as a crane, for its own independent derelict boat disposal service. The port’s vessel disposal program was heavily utilized from 2007-2008, when several derelict vessels were in danger of sinking, said Manny Ramirez, environmental manager for the port. During the height of the program, the port spent an estimated $75,000 on the disposal of 150 vessels, said Rachel Campbell, media relations manager for the Port of Los Angeles..

“Ninety-nine percent of the vessels we dispose of are voluntary,” Ramirez added. “The only times we really get abandoned vessels is when they sink.”

The port, which used to get at least two or three calls a month from boat owners who wish to turn in their vessels, currently has five vessels in the cue to be destroyed. They will be the last boats to be salvaged through the port’s independent service.

“It seems like it’s not really a problem anymore,” Ramirez explained. “The marina’s been cleaned up and remodeled. We’re kind of moving forward.”

For harbors and marinas that are unable to fund an independent salvage service, they are crossing their fingers that Cal Boating approves the consolidation of AWAF and VTIP funds.

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