With no removal in sight, Juneau weighs options for Lumberman tug

The tugboat Lumberman sitting in Gastineau Channel at low tide on June 15, 2018. (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

There’s still no plan to remove the abandoned tugboat sitting in the Gastineau Channel. But the city is sending a crew out this week to remove water from the boat so that it stays afloat.

The Lumberman, a World War II-era tugboat, has been anchored on state tidelands between downtown Juneau and Twin Lakes since May when it broke free from its anchor lines outside the entrance to Aurora Harbor and drifted up the channel.

Since the boat is sitting on state land, the city maintains that it’s the responsibility of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to remove it.

Deputy Harbormaster Matt Creswell said the City and Borough of Juneau’s Docks and Harbors department recently sent a letter to the state attorney general’s office asking them to take action against the vessel’s owner. He said they’re trying to keep the ball rolling on removal efforts.

“We don’t have a solid plan in place yet for whatever it may be, how it’s going to be taken care of, who’s going to pay for it, who’s going to spearhead the effort,” Creswell said.

In the meantime, the city has contracted with Global Diving & Salvage to remove water that accumulated on the vessel during the winter. The company is the same one the Coast Guard hired a year ago to clean up hazardous materials on board the Lumberman. According to the city, this week’s work will not exceed $5,000.

“We know that the hull’s fine and the boat isn’t actively taking on water from the hull, but there has been rainwater and snowmelt and everything else, so we just want to make sure that the boat isn’t filling up with rainwater,” Creswell said.

Creswell said the city has received lots of public feedback about the boat. Many people remember a similar situation three years ago with the tugboat Challenger.

That vessel eventually sank in the channel and had to be disposed of by the Coast Guard for more than $2 million.

Creswell said the city wants to avoid a repeat scenario.

“We’re buying some time to get the proper plan of action together so we’re not dealing with a sunk boat,” Creswell said.

When abandoned vessels appear, the first course of action is to contact the owner. But the Lumberman’s owner, Brenden Mattson, has not been in contact with the city.

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill meant to improve the process for dealing with abandoned vessels. It was signed into law last fall.

According to Aaron Timian with the Department of Natural Resources, the law was supposed to raise funds to help with removal efforts. But he doesn’t know when local governments or state agencies will receive those funds.

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