SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE, Va. – Hundreds of abandoned boats across the Commonwealth are putting a strain on marina owners’ pockets while putting wildlife at risk.
Life at sea becomes rocky when owners abandon their boats.
When new ownership took over a marina, now named the Dock at Smith Mountain Lake, they found a boat tethered for 15 years.
“It’s a shame because it was a beautiful boat,” Chris Baker, the general manager of the marina, said.
With years of storms and temperature changes rocking the boat, it led to rope and wood rot damage that weakened the structure of the deck.
Baker said it’s a bill the marina owners had to pay and fix. He did not have the exact amount.
“But if you can’t find the owner of the vessel the marina has to basically claim ownership of the vessel,” Baker said. “And then we have to pay to have it destroyed and taken away and that can cost upward to 10 to 15 thousand dollars.”
According to the U.S. Coast Guard and reports from local marinas, there are more than 200 abandoned vessels across the state.
As a coast guard member, Baker is worried about how this problem could threaten the environment.
“An abandoned boat can actually leak dangerous chemicals into the lake. Anything from hydraulic fluid, to fuel, to battery acid. So it does have a significant impact to the ecosystem.”
Baker said the boat also dated back to the 1970s and there was a quick scare about potential asbestos and having to hire a hazmat crew.
Clean Virginia Waterways Executive Director Katie Register says money tends to be the main reason why owners don’t return.
Owners could be looking at a bill of $14,000 to $35,000 to remove their boats.
“You can take it to a landfill or hire someone to do it for you and then there are various fees that are not uniformed,” Virginia Coastal Zone Management Coastal Planner Jeff Flood said.
The process to claim an abandoned boat is not that easy either.
Flood said a person first needs to attain a title.
“This would involve either contacting the last know owner (if already known) to sign it over or going through an extensive process to attempt to contact the last known owner based on registration info (mailing certified letters) and/or location/description (if no identification info available) by placing an ad in a local paper,” Flood said. “This process may be assisted by Virginia Marine Resources Commission Marine Police or Department of Wildlife Resources officers. If the interested party is able to gain title to the vessel, they’d also have to file this information with DWR.”
However, Flood said vessel registration technically is not a requirement until the vessel is used on a public body of water. It’s a loophole he said the Clean Virginia Waterways of Longwood University and the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program are working to fix.
“We want boaters to understand their legal responsibilities to dispose of their other boats and we want to make it easier for them to do so legally,” Register said.
Register and Flood are looking into removal programs and are discussing legislative changes that could perhaps limit the investigation and legal challenge time.