New county effort to clean up harbors

San Juan County and the Department of Natural Resources are working together to identify and deal with problem vessels before they sink and pollute the water.  The county's Derelict Vessel Removal Program has been proactive, according to coordinator Joanruth Baumann, but she said the statutes that define the program make it difficult to address vessels that have a high- risk potential, but may not be clearly ready to sink.

The recent incident in Penn Cove on Whidbey Island, where a vessel owner ignored state laws and repeated calls for the vessel’s compliance or removal, which led the vessel to remain in the water until it burned and sank, releasing hundreds of gallons of fuel into the water has propelled the county and DNR to improve the program.

Many of the coves in our islands have vessels that have been stored out on buoys for years, some in rough shape and clearly abandoned, said Baumann.  A few local owners have been responsible for multiple derelicts. This winter, one local owner let three stored derelicts sink in Friday Harbor in less than two months, costing the public over $21,000 and dropping debris, fuel and chemicals into the harbor, she added.

Under Washington State marine laws, the county and DNR will work with volunteers and the Sheriff’s Department to document vessels with expired registrations, those anchored or buoyed out on onn-permitted buoys for far more that the 30 days allowed, and those that seem to have been abandoned, which are liable to break loose in storms and cause damage to other boats or sink.  By that time, the pollution has been released into the water and a far greater amount of public funds are needed to deal with the cleanup and disposal of the hulk, according to Baumann.

This project will help  document boats with problems, and then the county may encourage compliance and work with owners to make needed changes. And the sheriff will enforce the laws as he deems necessary.

DNR will step in by working with vessel owners and with funding. The county has  received both a grant to pay for program startup from the San Juan County Action Agenda Oversight Group and some operating funds from the Port of Friday Harbor.  Additional funding will be required but will potentially be matched by DNR.  For more info, call Joanruth Baumann, DVRP coordinator at 206-999-0547 or

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