Alaska SB 92 would crack down on derelict boats

Excavators prepare to demolish the tug Challenger on March 7, 2016 (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)
Excavators prepare to demolish the tug Challenger on March 7, 2016 (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)

State lawmakers are considering a bill aimed at tackling abandoned boats that litter Alaska’s waterways.

Port officials in Alaska say the problem is statewide.

“Abandoned and derelict vessels is a huge issue,” Juneau Harbormaster Dave Borg said. “I think if you look at it holistically, the fishing fleet’s aging. We’ve got tons of old wood-hulled boats and people tend to have a tendency of just walking away from them.”

Currently federally documented vessels of at least 5 tons aren’t required to be registered with the state.

But Senate Bill 92 would change that. Smaller vessels would be required to have a title issued by the DMV and kept in the state’s database.

Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche sponsored the bill.

“The intent of this bill is so that you understand the ownership of the vessel and you can start dealing with it years before what we’ve been doing now,” he told fellow members of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday. “Long before it ends up on the bottom.”

Tracking ownership isn’t easy, because current law only requires a bill of sale, even one written on a cocktail napkin.

“As you can imagine, people pass down hand-me-downs and vessels are traded in bars for a buck,”Juneau Port Director Carl Uchytil told the committee.

“It kind of ends up that people with the least resources have to have the biggest bill to pay at the end of the useful life of these vessels.”

An earlier version of SB 92 would require vessels longer than 30 feet to carry insurance for the cost of cleanup and recovery.

That version was quietly removed last month by the Senate Resources Committee.

SB 92 would streamline impound procedures.

Current law is complex and makes a distinction between abandoned and derelict vessels, which would change. The bill also adds civil penalties that supporters say would be easier to enforce than criminal charges in current law.

Senators said they recognized that requiring titles for boats will help the state at least track vessel ownership to determine liability.

“This is a step, it’s not the answer,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican. “We need to find a way to help folks that own these older vessels before they become a more serious problem than they are right now.”

In Juneau, more than 30 vessels in poor condition have been impounded and ordered destroyed by harbor officials since 2014.

That figure doesn’t include those seized, salvaged and auctioned.

Borg said the status quo isn’t working and wrecks keep piling up.

“We’ve got to get rid of these things,” Borg said in a recent interview. “They can’t just continue to litter our waterways and beaches and everything else. This will help to address that.”

Lawmakers haven’t heard any formal opposition so far.

A companion bill in the House introduced by Homer Republican Rep. Paul Seaton is awaiting hearings in his chamber’s finance and fisheries committees.

Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director based in Juneau. CoastAlaska is our partner in Southeast Alaska. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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