DNR announces crackdown on abandoned boats in Chesapeake

October 07, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

The state Department of Natural Resources is stepping up its attack on boat pollution -- not their waste oil or sewage but the boats themselves, left abandoned and deteriorating along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

DNR assigned a three-person crew last week to tour the bay and collect abandoned boats, said Robert Gaudette, director of the agency's Waterway Improvement Program.

The crew is in the waterways around Queen Anne's County and probably will reach Anne Arundel -- which officials think has the highest number of abandoned boats in the state -- next spring.

"I am hoping we can take out a couple of hundred boats a year," Mr. Gaudette said. "I wouldn't be surprised if there are 100 abandoned boats in Anne Arundel County."

In contrast, DNR has removed about 100 abandoned boats a year from all over the state, he said. But with an estimated 75 to 100 additional boats being abandoned each year, the removal effort to date has not made much of a dent in the numbers.

The department has been removing boats for more than two decades. Swings in the economy lead to surges in abandoned boats: People may replace old boats when they have money, and abandon them when they cannot afford the upkeep.

Tucked-away coves are the most likely places of abandonment. Waters leading to the Patapsco River probably have the most abandoned boats, and little tributaries to rivers in South County abound with them. Busy marinas, such as the harbor in Annapolis, have few, Mr. Gaudette said.

However, large waterways are not immune to abandoned boats. One was left last year in view of a marina in the West River -- stripped of gear and its registration numbers meticulously scraped off, said Peg Burroughs, an environmental activist who lives on the waterway.

"You can't go up any one of those little creeks without seeing the hulk of some little boat sinking," said Mrs. Burroughs, who is a board member of the Chesapeake Environmental Protection Association. "It's usually old wooden boats."

"We've had quite a few wash up in Riviera Beach in past years," said Carl Hackmann, of the Riviera Community Improvement Association. "You do see the occasional boat abandoned in Stoney Creek." But the problem has been on the decrease, he said.

Mr. Gaudette said abandoned boats pollute the water with fuel and batteries, create floating debris as they decompose, pose navigational hazards and are an eyesore that generate boat graveyards as people abandon more boats in the same area.

Abandoning a boat in Maryland state waters is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine, plus the cost of the cleanup. That can run $1,500 for a small boat, or as much as $40,000 for a vessel larger than 40 feet.

DNR allocates $300,000 a year to remove abandoned boats.

Besides removing abandoned boats, DNR will accept old boats for removal at a lower fee than a contractor would charge. The charge will be $75 for a boat less than 20 feet and $250 for a boat of 20 to 40 feet in length.

Owners desiring removal of a boat by the DNR must first contact the Waterway Improvement Program at 228-8605 and be prepared to sign over its title to the state.

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