Plan approved to sink the Lumberman, Juneau’s troublesome tug

The tugboat Lumberman sitting in Gastineau Channel at low tide on June 15, 2018. It’s since been moved to a city-owned vacant cruise ship dock. (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

Juneau’s harbor officials have received the all-clear to scuttle the Lumberman, a derelict tugboat, offshore and in deep water.

The World War II-vintage tugboat has been a fixture on Gastineau Channel.  And it became a jurisdictional tug-of-war between city, state and Coast Guard officials after it broke its anchor line on state tidelands more than two years ago.

It’s now moored to a city-owned cruise dock.  Juneau Port Director Carl Uchytil says permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gives the city permission to flood the 192-ton steel hulled boat and sink it in 8,400 feet of water.

“If we open this six inch valve, the vessel should sink in 22 minutes,” Uchytil said.

But first, port officials will need to find a way to tow the tug about 50 miles west of Icy Point. How that works, what it would cost and whether it’ll happen this year or next spring is still being worked out.

“It’ll be a very good day when we can put the Lumberman in our in our wake and move on to something else,” he said.

The EPA gave the green light to sink the vessel after it was thoroughly cleaned, first by the Coast Guard in 2018 and more recently by contractors who removed garbage and oily waste from the ship.

The 107-foot tugboat was last used as a makeshift live-aboard anchored outside of Juneau’s Aurora Harbor. Tragedy struck in 2017 when a skiff with five people heading to the tug overturned. Two men on the skiff were never found.

Derelict vessels are a problem across coastal Alaska and Gastineau Channel in particular. As recently as 2015, another derelict tug — the Challenger — sank near Juneau.

It was ultimately refloated, cleaned and dismantled. That cost the public upwards of $2 million.  The state Legislature has since tightened up vessel registration rules in an effort to strengthen the law over the liability of derelict vessels.