The Port of Anacortes has removed six abandoned or derelict vessels from the waters beyond the Cap Sante Marina breakwater since 2016, according to an inventory posted by the state Department of Natural Resources.
That doesn’t include vessels that broke free from their anchorages and grounded on the breakwater.
The port is a local partner in Natural Resources’ Derelict Vessel Removal Program, which removes from marine waters those vessels are in danger of sinking, breaking up, blocking navigation channels and harming the environment. The program is funded by a portion of vessel registration and visitor permit fees.
Statewide, Natural Resources’ partners are port districts, city and county governments, park districts, the state Parks and Recreation Commission, and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. All told, Natural Resources and its local partners have removed 878 vessels from Washington’s waters since the program was established in 2002, according to the state Natural Resources inventory. Another 192 are on the watchlist now.
None are in Anacortes, and port officials and Natural Resources representatives are working to keep it that way, with outreach to boat owners, vessel checks and fines for owners whose boats have been anchored in one place beyond the 30 days allowed by state statute.
The port’s jurisdictional authority ends at the breakwater. The sea floor in Fidalgo Bay falls under the jurisdiction of Natural Resources; the waters of the bay fall under the jurisdiction of multiple agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“It’s immediately thought the aquatic lands all the way to the refinery are the port’s, (and) ‘Why is the port not handling this?’,” Port of Anacortes Operations Manager John Dumas said of derelict vessels.
In short: If a boat grounds or sinks inside the breakwater, the port can have the boat hauled out and disposed of.
Beyond the breakwater is where the port and Natural Resources partnership comes into play, with the port keeping an eye on boats anchored outside the breakwater and notifying Natural Resources of at-risk vessels before they sink and become environmental hazards.
Here’s how the Derelict Vessel Removal Program works: If efforts to contact a boat’s owner are unsuccessful, Natural Resources and the partner agency work together to get the boat removed if it’s determined to be abandoned or in danger of grounding or sinking. Contractors are hired to remove the vessel from the water, remove fuel and oil, and destroy and dispose of the vessel.
The program will reimburse the partner agency 90% of the cost of removal and disposal. Natural Resources will go after the vessel’s owner of record to reimburse the program, though the success rate is “less than 1%,” according to Ross Zimmerman, aquatic lands manager.
Removing and disposing of a derelict vessel is costly: Those six vessels cost the port $85,000 to dispose of, not including 100 hours of staff time, according to Brenda Treadwell, the port’s planning and environmental director.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate that the vessels that have beached have been small and that we have a local contractor who’s an equal partner in the process,” Dumas said. “He’s been generous in giving us a competitive rate (for removal and disposal).”
‘Not a great place to anchor’
The area outside the Cap Santa Marina breakwater is a popular anchorage from May to September; it’s a short row to amenities in town and at the marina. There are no fees to anchor out, although the boat is limited by state law to 30 days in one location, Zimmerman said. If a boat overstays, Natural Resources can charge a $100 fee.
While the time limit and fee are designed to keep people “from camping out in prime real estate,” Zimmerman said, he acknowledges it’s cheap rent rather than incentive to move on.
The longer a boat is anchored outside the breakwater, the greater the risk the anchor will lose hold. “The substrate in that area is not great,” Harbormaster Brad Johnson said. The sea floor there is silty and exposed to southeasterlies that, depending on the season, can reach 30-40 knots.
“It’s not a great place to anchor,” he said.
The owner of a cabin cruiser learned that in September. She had just purchased her boat.
“She dropped her hook but didn’t drive it in,” Johnson said. The boat ended up on its side on the breakwater and because of damage had to be destroyed.
Marina cameras are trained on the anchorage, and Johnson will periodically boat out to the area to assess and photo-document the condition of boats there.
“If the vessel is a concern, we send an email to (Natural Resources),” Johnson said.
Sometimes, being a presence on the water is enough to spark a conversation with a vessel owner about anchorage rules.
“People are very aware and observant when we start circling around their boats,” Johnson said in a Nov. 7 interview. “We went out yesterday and did our tour and came back in and here’s this guy with his dog, ‘Hey, I saw you out there circling my boat. What’s going on?’”
Johnson chatted with the owner and gave him a copy of the anchoring rules. The owner thanked him and said he’d be leaving in a few days.
“I’m sure, among those who are anchoring out, the word has spread that there are eyes and ears on the ground observing the action or lack of action” of boat owners who’ve dropped a hook, Johnson said.
Natural Resources employs other programs to help keep derelict vessels out of the water.
In 2014, Natural Resources established the Vessel Turn-In Program, through which an owner can transfer boat ownership to Natural Resources without penalty. The boat must be 45 feet or less, not fit the legal definition of derelict or abandoned, all fuel must be removed, and the owner must produce the title.
In a few cases, boats have had materials that can be sold as scrap to help defray the costs of disposal, Zimmerman said. Natural Resources hopes to extend the program to boats larger than 45 feet.
Natural Resources can also charge a boat owner a fee for “unauthorized use and occupancy” for anchoring on state-owned aquatic land in excess of the state statute. It’s essentially like paying rent, but “it’s actually a fee because it doesn’t convey property rights,” he said.
Port and Natural Resources officials want boaters to know the risks and rules associated with anchoring; to prevent boats from becoming hazards to the environment and to navigation; and to let boaters know that if the condition of their vessel has gotten ahead of them, there is a way out.
“Voluntary compliance does work, but sometimes we have to let them know we’re serious,” Zimmerman said.