Legislation that would aid cities and counties in disposing of derelict boats has passed the California State Assembly and is now on its way to the state Senate.

Assembly Bill 1950, which is sponsored by Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), whose district includes Marina del Rey, passed the chamber unanimously May 27th.

“So many cities are dealing with abandoned boats left on their shores or sunken to the bottom of their waterways,” said Lieu. “This legislation gives boat owners and local agencies the ability to be proactive in dealing with these types of vessels before they become a hazard.”

AB 1950 allows local agencies to apply for existing grants to dispose of surrendered vessels. It would also increase fines for irresponsible boat owners who abandon their boats, polluting waterways and creating underwater hazards.

These abandoned boats also leak toxins such as fuel and oils into our water. The ability to deal with surrendered (rather than abandoned) vessels would save local agencies thousands of dollars each year, due to the cost of recovering a sunken boat.

The legislation was well received by various boating organizations.

“This bill is one of those truly good government bills,” said Randy Short, a board member with the Marina Recreation Association. “AB 1950 not only puts in place a program that prevents derelict vessels from being abandoned, but it is also one of those rare bills that saves government money by making an existing program more efficient.”

Charlie Nobles, the executive director for the Marina del Rey-based American Sailing Association also supports the Assembly bill.

“Boats tend to depreciate rapidly, and at times because some of them require so much repair work, there is no one that will take them if the owner wants to sell it,” he said. “This is an issue in the Marina, and I think that (AB 1950) would be a good thing.”

Many small boat owners in Marina del Rey are against the bill, charging that it is another ploy to deprive recreational boaters from enjoying what Marina del Rey was intended for when it was created over 40 years ago — a place where small craft owners could recreate.

They feel that the exorbitant rise in slip fees by several of the lessees that have jolted many in the Marina have forced them to sell their boats or turn them over to the county because they can no longer afford to keep their vessels in the harbor.

“I would really like to know what was the input in this bill by the county and the Sheriff Department, and I am really offended by the fact that Ted (Lieu), our assemblyman (would) introduce a bill in the state (Assembly) without even bothering to contact the community to find out what concerns they had about this bill,” asserted Hans Etter, a Marina del Rey boat owner.

“They claim that this bill would give boaters a chance to ‘freely’ turn the title over to the county for disposal and to avoid fines and disposal fees,” he said.

Lieu reiterated that AB 1950 specifies that the decision to turn a boat over to the county is strictly voluntary, and was somewhat surprised to hear that there are constituents who feel that this is another governmental mechanism designed to drive a certain populace of boaters from the area.

“I would just ask them to read the bill,” said the assemblyman.

Another Marina del Rey boat owner, Darrell Steffey, feels that due to slip rate increases more small boat owners could lose their vessels, but he also believes AB 1950 can be helpful to those who wish to dispose of their boats without abandoning them in the harbor.

“As I understand this bill, it gives the boat owner a way to avoid abandoning their boat if they have no other way to either sell or get rid of it,” said Steffey. “By surrendering their vessel to the local authorities they avoid the fines for abandoning it.

“However, it is not clear to me whether they also avoid the costs of removal, storage or disposal.”

The Abandoned Watercraft Abatement Fund, a state grant, provides funding that covers average costs to remove, store and/or dispose of abandoned vessels and other navigational hazards.

Local public agencies that have jurisdiction over navigable waterways in California and meet the application assessment criteria are eligible.

Extra consideration is given to applicant agencies that are proactive in keeping abandoned vessels off state waters and maintain a navigational hazard abatement plan.

The removal of commercial vessels is not reimbursable.

Officials at the Marina del Rey Sheriff’s station, which is responsible for towing and warehousing the discarded vessels, say that the cost of storing these vessels can be prohibitive.

Storage charges in Marina del Rey start at 90 cents a foot per day, and after the third day it increases by 45 cents, said Sheriff’s deputy John Rochford. If a vessel is no longer seaworthy or in poor condition, often the boat owner will not claim it, leaving the county with only two recourses — destroying the boat or auctioning it.

“Lien sales can take up to six weeks, because the owner has a right to claim their vessel within that time period,” Rochford explained.

Steffey did have one concern with the bill.

“One problem with the legislation is that the current provision granting a hearing to the owner or other interested parties if they disagree with the decision of the local authorities that a given vessel is abandoned and un-seaworthy and they therefore remove it, should not be done by the same agency that caused the removal,” he said.

“This procedure definitely creates a conflict of interest within the local agency.”

Lieu said, “This bill is a win-win. It protects the environment and our waterways, while saving local agencies thousands of dollars. With the current budget deficit, the state should do everything in its power to ease the burden on local governments.”

Nobles also noted the environmental benefits that AB 1950 could bring.

“There are some boats in the Marina that are in disrepair and might leak fuel,” he pointed out. “And if a boat sinks, a lot of oil can spill into the water.”

AB 1950 is now headed to the Senate for approval.

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