(Editor’s note: Terry Sanders can’t recall the exact date he fell of his boat and was rescued by Roberts, but says he did not live on a boat until October 2010. The original version of this story stated Sanders was sentenced to 90 days in jail and fined $1,000.)
On July 4, 2010, Gary Roberts drove his boat to his home on Brown Island. When he reached the landing, he noticed a man hanging off his dock. The man, Terry Sanders, had fallen from his vessel.
“It was just by chance that I was there,” said Roberts, who drove Sanders back to his boat moored nearby.
Little did Roberts know that Sanders would be his adversary in a fight that would span more than a half decade.
“It’s been a rough seven years,” said Sanders.
About 40 years ago, Roberts moved to the island and became an avid member of the boating community. Sanders came to the island, eight years later, also drawn by the idyllic marine surrounding. The island was a safe port after many years of traveling.
In 1966, Sanders was drafted out of college into the Army and served time in Korea in 1967 before returning home to Washington to finish college. After graduation, he traveled to Europe and sailed across the Atlantic on a 55-foot French sailboat. Sanders returned to Bellingham and built a 70-foot boat. He moved to the islands in 1985 and began working as a captain. After living on land for 25 years, he had a falling out with his landlord forcing him to find new housing. He found one in a 47-foot Fairliner.
The floating home would lead Sanders to be the first person in the county to be convicted of criminal charges for living on a derelict vessel beyond the shoreline and living aboard with an illegal mooring.
On July 26, Sanders, 70, was sentenced to 180 days in jail and fined $2,000 in San Juan County District Court for the above-mentioned violations.
His sentence has been suspended as long as he complies with vessel laws. Sanders also has to serve 24 hours of community service. He said he has no problem with the service aspect as he has been a volunteer firefighter since 1994.
The charges stem from an incident that occurred about a year after Roberts pulled Sanders from the water. Roberts said no one minded that Sanders was moored just outside of Brown Island until Sanders began running his generator all night.
In 2011, Roberts sent Sanders a letter requesting that he not run the generator after 10 p.m.
Sanders said he did not run the generator in the evenings because he did not have enough fuel.
Roberts was a caretaker at the time for a homeowner who spent two weeks out of the year on Brown. The homeowner was not pleased with the noise from Sanders’ boat.
The generator kept running, according to Roberts, so he contacted the authorities.
This conflict was the beginning of a long road of infractions against Sanders.
“I didn’t want to see him pushed out,” said Roberts. “I just didn’t want him to be obnoxious [running the generator]. We just wanted him to be a good neighbor.”
According to Sanders, the only crime he committed was making a home on the sea.
“They just want to get rid of people parked in front of the waterfront homes,” said Sanders, who added his conviction is about wealth versus poverty.
Sanders said his legal troubles stem from the wealthy homeowner, whose house he parked in front of on Brown Island. He claimed that the resident donated large sums of money to organizations like the Department of Natural Resources.
Roberts is adamant that the homeowner did not donate money to any entities.
“DNR picked up the ball and rolled with it as soon as we contacted them,” said Roberts.
In July of 2012, a deputy was informed by then San Juan County Derelict Vessel Program manager Joanruth Baumann that Sanders was unlawfully mooring and living aboard his buoyed vessel for more than a year.
Sanders was also accused of disposing human waste overboard and running a generator all night. Sanders claims that neither allegations were true. He said he carried his waste off his boat on his daily trips into town.
Sanders was also accused of mooring on a buoy that was not registered with DNR for longer than 30 days. According to Sanders, a friend advised him to make up permit numbers on his buoy because no one would check them. Sanders and Roberts said they were both unaware of the 30-day rule.
“The rules have changed so much, no rules were stable or established,” said Sanders.
He was also confused as to what constituted a derelict vessel.
Baumann made a statement to the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office that the vessel did not appear to be derelict but she thought “it had no engine and needed work.”
The county’s website does provide an exact definition of a derelict vessel, but signs of neglect include expired registration, listing to one side, being covered with “unusual quantities” of plant material, leaking fluids such as oil, fuel, or waste, having severe external deterioration, throwing waste into water and illegally mooring longer than 30 days.
Sanders said that both of his boats were not derelict, but working vessels. Though under the county’s definition Sanders’ boat had signs of neglect, including no registration, no proper waste facilities and was illegally mooring.
On June 25, 2012, a deputy contacted Sanders on his vessel. Sanders allegedly told the deputy he did not think it was illegal to live on the boat. He told the Journal he wanted to apply for a DNR permit, but he didn’t have the money.
According to the deputy’s report, a year later Sanders was found to be on the same illegal mooring. In April of 2013, a notice was posted on his Fairliner that he had 30 days to move his vessel.
The deputy’s report states that Sanders accused the sheriff’s office of damaging his swimming platform when they posted the notice on his boat. The deputy denied the allegation. The deputy recorded that as of July 2013 Sanders had not complied. Sanders said he moved his boat around the harbor often but eventually did return to that mooring buoy.
On July 8, 2013, Leslie Khans, a DNR technician, mailed Sanders a notice that his Fairliner “occupies state-owned aquatic land without proper authorization.” The letter stated that Sanders would be fined if he continued to trespass in the area. Kahn also stated because of the previous year of illegal mooring, Sanders would not be authorized to use state-owned aquatic lands.
By August, Sanders had applied and received shoreline exemption, but the permit was rescinded when Kahn was notified of the transaction by county staff.
Kahn wrote to the county, “DNR will not be authorizing Mr. Sanders buoy due to the severity and duration (two years) of his current violations on state -owned aquatic lands.”
Sanders was left with few options. He could give up his boat and move on land.
Instead, he moved to Shipyard Cove and waited for his fate.
“I’m being accused of being the bad guy,” said Sanders, who argues that he is, in fact, one of the good guys shown by his numerous volunteer positions on the island from firefighting to senior services.
In January of 2014, Sanders was charged with having a derelict vessel beyond the shoreline and living aboard with an illegal mooring, but if he followed live aboard rules until Dec. 7, 2016, the charges would be dismissed. So Sanders turned in his Fairliner to DNR in 2015. Sanders claimed he was restoring the Fairliner as a retirement project and had planned to live on it.
By 2016, Sanders was back on the water and living on his second boat, a 30-foot Tollycraft.
In June of 2016, San Juan County Derelict Vessel Program manager Marc Florenza emailed San Juan County Attorney Jon Cain about Sanders, who was then living on a boat in Roche Harbor. Florenza stated that Sanders was instructed to find a permanent live-aboard slip, move off the vessel, find a permitted mooring or relinquish the Tollycraft to DNR.
Florenza complained in his email that Sanders was running a portable generator, a potential noise nuisance Florenza had concerns about how Sanders disposed of “black water liquids and solids.”
“He is setting a worrisome example for other boaters who want to live aboard,” wrote Florenza.
The county investigated the case and found that Sanders had been moored in the harbor for more than 30 days so they reinstated the original charges that eventually led to Sanders’ conviction.
In the spring of 2017, Florenza left his position, moved off-island and his job was eliminated. He could not be reached for comment.
Mark Herrenkohl, the county’s solid waste program administration, is now also the derelict vessel program coordinator. He said he could not comment on the specifics of the Sanders case because it occurred prior to his time, but he did outline the set protocols he follows. If a derelict vessel is found without registration, Herrenkohl reports it to the sheriff’s office so they can contact the owner. Then the county contacts the owner about the infractions, advertises the information in the paper and if the problems are not fixed the county takes custody of the boat. San Juan County Prosecutor Randy Gaylord said that Florenza contacted the prosecutor’s office directly because he was under the direction of the state’s attorney general to take a stronger stance on people living on boats improperly.
“There is a newer approach adopted to bring offenders into compliance,” said Gaylord.
He added the approach stems from a number of sinking derelict vessels and increased complaints by other boaters. Overall Gaylord said the state would rather see boaters on marina slips where they can best manage sewage issues.
“It’s necessary to keep waters clean,” said Gaylord.
Gaylord acknowledged that Sanders is the only person who has been criminally charged and convicted of derelict vessel violation, but said there is a good reason for that, including Sanders’ “long history of disobeying posted notices civil orders and defiance of the authority of his perceived rights to moor whatever he wanted.”
As for Sanders’ complaint of the difficulties of a person trying to get by on a small income, Gaylord said, “We charge people regardless of the wealth. We have charges against wealthy families too.”
Regarding the criminal charges, Gaylord said it is a last resort option.
“It’s [criminal charges] not something we do often,” said Gaylord. “We ask enforcement agents to work with owners.”
For Sanders, the conviction proves he has been singled out.
DNR and the county’s prosecutor’s office maintain that the problem with Sanders’ case is the long duration of repeated offenses.
Sanders, who will turn 71 in two weeks, is now living in an affordable housing unit on land. He filed an appeal last week over his recent convictions. He continues to get bills from DNR. The latest one claims a grand total of $11,000 for illegal mooring.
DNR could not be reached for comment.
As for Roberts, he said he takes no pleasure in Sanders’ misfortunes but is happy with DNR’s work.
“From what I’ve seen DNR has done a great job cleaning up a bunch of derelict boats,” said Roberts.
For information on the county’s derelict program, visit www.sanjuanco.com/496/Derelict-Vessel-Program.