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Originally published December 28, 2011 at 8:13 PM | Page modified December 28, 2011 at 8:13 PM

Gig Harbor cracks down on derelict and abandoned boats

In November, warnings were issued to four vessels in Gig Harbor. Those four boats have since been removed, leaving 11 derelict or abandoned boats.

The Peninsula Gateway

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GIG HARBOR — Working with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department and the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Gig Harbor police have assumed responsibility for removing derelict or abandoned boats that have been anchored in Gig Harbor for a long time.

Gig Harbor police Sgt. Kelly Busey said this crackdown is the result of "years and years of trying to get a coordinated effort to deal with the derelict-vessel problem in Gig Harbor."

A boat is considered anchored for an extended time at 30 days, or 90 days total in any 365-day period, Busey said.

"Removing these vessels from the public waterways preserves the right of enjoyment of our citizens to use these waters without obstruction," Police Chief Mike Davis stated in a news release. "It also removes potential pollution hazards and protects the property rights of homeowners along the way."

In November, warnings were issued to four vessels in Gig Harbor that had been anchored in the same place for several years, and the owners were contacted and given orders to remove the vessels.

Those four boats have since been removed, leaving 11 derelict or abandoned boats, Busey said.

"We're using this to test our process a little," he said. "It seems to be working very well."

There was one unexpected occurrence. One of the four boats sank four days after the owner was notified to move the vessel, Busey said, the result of open intake valves just above the waterline and a severe encrustation of mussels — hundreds of pounds — attached to the hull.

The cost for raising the boat was $7,600, Busey said, in addition to thousands of dollars more to transport and repair the boat. The DNR stepped in and took emergency custody of the boat and picked up the tab.

Busey said what normally happens is that a notice to remove the vessel is posted, and the owner or owners remove the boat. If the vessel is not removed, the city can charge the owner $100 a day, but Busey said the city doesn't exercise that option.

If, however, the city is forced to seize the boat, then the owner or owners are liable for costs that involve removal and either auction or disposal of the vessel.

"We're recovering some of our costs," Busey said of the public-auction option.

A portion of the cost of boat tabs — similar to the tabs on automobiles — goes into a state-level derelict-vessel fund to reimburse local governments for any costs associated with dealing with dilapidated or ditched boats, Busey said. That fund has about $1 million.

"If we incur a cost in removing a boat, we're reimbursed for 90 percent of costs," he said. "It's a great deal for the city, and it gets better." The remaining 10 percent, he said, can be used for in-kind city services, such as those provided by city administration of the city attorney.

The Gig Harbor Police Department plans to continue to enforce the law by identifying additional vessels that have been deemed derelict or abandoned under state law. Eight more boats have been targeted for mid-January removal notices, Busey said.

"The clock is running on them as well," he said.

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