Who is Responsible for the Marine Debris in New York City’s Waterways?
If you see a half-sunken boat spoiling your view of New York’s shorelines and rivers, you may wonder: Whose jobs is it to clean that up? The answer is not so clear. Over the time, hundreds of abandoned vessels are left to rust, leak gasoline and eventually sink into the bottom of a waterway in New York City, according to a salvage expert. Is our government doing anything to remove dumped boats?
Jim Dambrosio, program support specialist at US Army Corps of Engineers, said the Corps team is only responsible for removal of wrecks if they “become hazard to navigation and are free-floating.” In that scenario, the debris will be towed away by “survey boats on missions of drift collection.”
In other words, if the vessel is tied to the dock and or is halfway in the sand, the Corps engineers can’t touch it.
Normally, it’s the owner of the vessel who is responsible for that clearup. However, if he or she fails to do so, the United States Coast Guard would intervene if the sunken vessels meet either one of following criteria, according to Charles Rowe, the agency’s spokesman: “First, the boat causes pollution. Second, the boat blocks navigation for commercial vessels.”
If an owner fails to act, figuring out who is responsible for a junk boat can be “a black hole,” said Brian Kempf, the director of Bureau of Marine Services at New York States’ Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
One challenging factor is the cost to have a marine salvage and wreck removal company to tow away a recreational boat–cost can ranges from anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000, according to Kempf. In light of the expensive fees, some state tries to collect public funding to help remove the abandoned boats. However, New York City doesn’t have that program, according to Kempf.
In 2008, Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn and Queens) called for a federal aid package to subsidize a volunteer-led effort to remove 230 derelict boats from Jamaica Bay and other waterways around New York State, according to a Daily News article.
To help mitigate the situation caused by gray areas around wreckage regulation, volunteers from around Jamaica Bay have participated in a marine debris removal project since 2002 called “Jamaica Bay Clean Sweep” led by American Littoral Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protect marine habitat and life. In 2013, the organization located over 590 items of wreckages and removed 60 tons of marine debris including abandoned docks in Jamaica Bay.
“We have a GPS map of over 590 boats, docks and large pieces of debris in Jamaica Bay,” said Don Riepe, founder of American Littoral Society. “It’s a long-term effort to remove the sunk boats there. We need to work on it every year.”
We have a GPS map of over 590 boats, docks and large pieces of debris in Jamaica Bay. It’s a long-term effort to remove the sunk boats there. We need to work on it every year.Don Riepe