The number of abandoned boats in waters around Annapolis is increasing, and the problem is giving Harbormaster Rick Dahlgren headaches.
"It has literally made me feel like tearing my hair out," he said. "I've almost cried a few times. It's really frustrating."
In the three years Dahlgren has held the job, there have been about 25 abandoned boats in city waters, 13 of them this year. Many have sunk or leaked fuel, creating environmental problems.
FOR THE RECORD - In a story and accompanying photograph last month, a boat anchored in Meredith Creek that was reported as abandoned was in fact legally anchored and registered, according to the Department of Natural Resources Police.
The boat, which has been stripped by thieves, cannot be legally boarded.
Scott Watts, owner of the boat, named the Helianthus, said it was the last personal yacht of famed America's Cup yacht-builder Nathaniel Herreshoff and is on the National Historic Register. Watts has spent the last two years trying to rebuild the 70-year-old boat for environmental education use.
Donations to help with the restoration may be sent to Watts' attorney, Mark Herbst, at 1200 West St., Annapolis, Md. 21401. Checks can be made payable to: Helianthus Maritime Foundation.
The Anne Arundel County Sun regrets the error.
The city has begun cracking down on owners who abandon the decrepit vessels.
Last year, the city received authority from the Boating Administration of the state Department of Natural Resources to remove boats that have sat on public property without permission for more than 30 days.
Some abandoned boats have been removed by the owners, and Dahlgren even had two success stories when he found new owners for two abandoned sailboats. But 13 of the boats had to be removed by the city, with the help of a $13,000 grant from the state.
Some of the boats had been deliberately abandoned, with any trace of ownership or identification removed. Others were difficult to trace, because subsequent owners hadn't registered the boats.
City police have charged several people with misdemeanors for abandoning boats, which can carry a first-time maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and six months in prison.
So far, penalties meted out have been smaller, such as the one given to a person who received a suspended $500 fine and was ordered to pay $100 toward the cost of removing the boat.
The city must wait 30 days before it can begin the process of getting rid of an abandoned boat. That process -- conducting an investigation, publishing and mailing notices and receiving bids from contractors to remove the boat -- can take as long as a month, Dahlgren said.
The problem is worse for private marina owners, who must wait six months to remove abandoned boats from their marinas. At Port Annapolis Marina, the number of abandoned boats has increased from one or two a year to seven this year.
"They face a bigger problem than we do," Dahlgren said. "They have a tremendously expensive proposition."
Marina owners lose rent money for slips occupied by abandoned boats. To get rid of them, they must place a lien on the boats and conduct auctions.
Often the marina owner winds up buying the boat, breaking it up and finding a landfill to take it. The problem is compounded by that fact that most landfills won't take boats, although Boating Administration spokeswoman Pat Shanahan said the state is working on finding one central landfill for abandoned boats.
The problem is not limited to Annapolis. A cruiser towed a large, rusting boat into Meredith Creek north of the Severn River a week ago and left it anchored there, said Mrs. Labrot-Spence, who can see the boat from her farm on Hackett Point.
Labrot-Spence and her neighbors contacted the Department of Natural Resources Police, but because the boat hasn't been there 30 days yet, it may be there for a while longer.
"We're anxious to see it removed," said Labrot-Spence. "It's right in the middle of the creek."
Shanahan said the number of abandoned boats has increased statewide.
The state will spend $150,000 this year to remove them. Dahlgren attributes the phenomena to decreasing resale value for boats, rising boat slip fees and the cost and difficulty of disposing of old boats.