Alaska News

Washington state solution for derelict vessels may be a model for Alaska

Alaskans trying to clean up the wreckage of abandoned vessels are looking to Washington state.

Washington's program began with legislation in 2002 and since has been strengthened. A $3 surcharge on recreational boat registration fees and $5 for visiting vessels goes toward the program, as do special appropriations to deal with the backlog of abandoned boats and barges. A fee on commercial vessels was added in January, according to Melissa Ferris, manager of Washington's derelict vessel removal program.

For a two-year period ending June 30, the Washington budget for the program was $7.3 million, and 100 problem vessels either have been removed or the work is in progress.

In Washington, state agencies, ports and local governments can apply to get up to 90 percent of the removal cost reimbursed, though they look first to the vessel owner. Abandoning a vessel in Washington now is a misdemeanor crime.

But beyond cleanup, Washington tries to prevent the problem to begin with, according to Ferris. Under a trial program, owners can turn in vessels less than 45 feet long that are in disrepair. They won't be paid, but they won't be charged a disposal fee, either. Oregon and California have similar programs.

Another new twist requires sellers of vessels more than 65 feet long and more than 40 years old to provide an inspection and to demonstrate proof that the buyer has marine insurance. New boat owners can be charged with a crime for failing to have insurance.

In all, 580 vessels have been removed and another 140 are on the list as potentially abandoned, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Yet funding remains an issue, and removal of old commercial and military vessels is a particular challenge, Ferris said.

Lisa Demer

Lisa Demer was a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Dispatch News. Among her many assignments, she spent three years based in Bethel as the newspaper's western Alaska correspondent. She left the ADN in 2018.