A State Assembly bill that would permit public agencies to accept surrendered or abandoned boats could be a welcome solution to an ongoing problem for Marina del Rey officials.
The proposed legislation, Assembly Bill (AB) 1950 by local State Assemblyman Ted Lieu, is designed to assist local and county agencies with the removal and storage of derelict vessels that frequently become eyesores in the harbor and possible waterway hazards.
While there are currently programs in place to help local agencies remove abandoned vessels, there is no mechanism to prevent the abandonment of these boats.
“These abandoned boats not only create hazards in our boating ways, but leak toxins such as fuel and oil into our water,” Lieu stated. “This legislation would help clean up our waterways while saving the state and local agencies money by being proactive in our actions.”
“These derelict boats are being left on the [waterways] at taxpayers’ expense,” said Kerry Silverstrom, chief deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors. “People who abandon their boats are taking advantage of the taxpayers, who ultimately have to pay for the removal or the storage of these vessels.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Marina del Rey Station is responsible for the retrieval of abandoned vessels, and Sgt. Michael Carrilles thinks that AB 1950 could make it easier for his department to take these boats off the water.
“Personally, I think that it would be a good idea,” said Carrilles, who is in charge of harbor operations. “But there are still a lot of things, like the cost and who would pay for it, that still need to be ironed out.”
Carrilles believes that there should also be more discussion regarding the cost of the demolition of decaying boats to public agencies.
“There are still a lot of things that are up in the air,” the sergeant pointed out.
David Ford, Lieu’s chief of staff, realizes that the proposed bill will likely face additional changes and modifications as it winds its way though the Assembly, and he says the assemblyman is grateful to public officials for their contributions on this matter.
“It’s always helpful to have input from people who are on the front lines,” said Ford.
A statewide nautical organization is in favor of the proposed legislation.
“AB 1950 would make it easier for boat owners to surrender their vessels that are in a deteriorated condition, instead of allowing the boat to simply drift and eventually sink,” said Jack Peveler, president of the California Association of Harbor Masters and Port Captains. “This bill would help make boating and other water recreational activities safer for our families and community.”
The cost of recovering a sunken boat from the harbor is another expense that the county incurs.
“We had someone that brought a boat to our transport dock that began to sink,” Silverstrom recalled.
Assembly Bill 1950 would also allow local agencies to apply for existing grants to create programs to dispose of these surrendered vessels and increase fines for irresponsible boat owners who abandon their boats, polluting waterways and creating underwater hazards.
Ford says that there could be avenues that his office could utilize to help offset the expense of what it will cost the county.
“There might be grants available [to help with the cost of storage],” he said.
Ford mentioned an existing source of revenue that could possibly be used — the Abandoned Watercraft Abatement Fund.
“Part of our responsibility is to make these existing [funds] available,” he explained.
Local public agencies that have jurisdiction over sailable waterways in California and meet the application assessment criteria are eligible to apply for the abatement grant.
The Abandoned Watercraft Abatement Fund provides funding that covers average costs to remove, store and/or dispose of abandoned vessels and other navigational hazards.
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.
The cost of storing these boats can become expensive in the long term. 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.
In addition to the time and expense needed to remove these vessels from the harbor, there is also the potential for environmental hazards when leaking fuel or debris from abandoned vessels gets into the harbor’s waters.
“We’ve been reaching out to environmental organizations as well,” said Ford.
There are ways to avoid county fines if the owner of a boat chooses to part with it.
“If you sign over the title to us, we won’t issue citations for the cost [of storage],” said Silverstrom.
The number of dilapidated boats at times forces the Marina Sheriffs Station to use the county fuel docks near Fiji Way for storage when its dock is full.
“Sometimes we have more than our dock can handle,” said Rochford. “It can be very problematic.”
The legislation is still in its nascent stage in the Legislature.
County officials believe that AB 1950 could help alleviate the strain on its resources and allow those who dock their vessels in the Marina to be more proactive if their boats are decaying, beyond repair or too expensive to renovate.
“Hopefully, this will make boatowners who have these dilapidated boats dispose of them responsibly,” said Silverstrom.