The derelict tug Lumberman is scheduled for disposal by at-sea scuttling in mid-October, said Juneau harbormaster Matt Creswell, Sept. 9, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

The derelict tug Lumberman is scheduled for disposal by at-sea scuttling in mid-October, said Juneau harbormaster Matt Creswell, Sept. 9, 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Derelict tugboat slated for mid-October sinking

The vessel will be dragged into the Gulf and scuttled.

The tugboat Lumberman is on schedule for its final destination beneath the grasping waters in mid-October, said the City and Borough of Juneau Docks and Harbors harbormaster.

“We had to find the best way to get rid of the Lumberman,” said harbormaster Matt Creswell in a phone interview. “We researched many ways to dispose of it, and the most efficient would be deep-water scuttling.”

The Lumberman was seized by the city after foul weather grounded the vessel in Juneau’s tidelands in early 2020. It. had been moored in the Gastineau Channel for several years, the subject of an ongoing discussion about whose responsibility the disposal of the vessel was, until being grounded on CBJ land.

The vessel was tied alongside the cruise ship piers as the city worked through its process after seizure. After an auction for the boat yielded no bids, the vessel was slated for disposal. Contractors and docks and harbors personnel began the process of readying it for scuttling, which will occur in 1,300 feet of water 55 miles into the Gulf of Alaska, Creswell said.

[Abandoned tugboat problem likely to linger]

“We hired a company to come in and do a complete environmental assessment of the vessel. There was a little bit of a lead paint that needed to be removed and some other small things,” Creswell said. “We were able to bring back five of the port staff and put them to work. That was their job for two months.”

Workers removed lead paint, wiring and debris that could pose an environmental threat, Creswell. Contractors also pumped out any remaining fluids, flushed the hydraulic system, and removed lines to prevent the leaking of oil or other engine fluids, Creswell said. Now all that remains is for a few federal agencies involved in marine or environmental issues to sign off on the plan, Creswell said. Agencies like the EPA and the Coast Guard, among others, are involved in any such decisions.

“I’m expecting a report from Global Diving on the best way to scuttle (the Lumberman) this week,” Creswell said. “We’ve set ourselves a deadline for 15 October to have the vessel on the bottom and we’re tracking with that.”

The disposal of older vessels in Alaska is becoming a bigger issue as many vessels age out, Creswell said. Alaska’s position means it often costs more to have a vessel taken to a breaker yard than will be recouped from recycling it.

“This is an increasing problem in the State of Alaska because boats are aging,” Creswell said. “Larger boats are hard to get rid of in the state of Alaska. It costs more to ship em south than they make to recycle.”

A bill passed in 2018 with the enthusiastic support of harbormasters across the state required that all boats longer than 24 feet be titled, Creswell said. This provides a means to hold owners accountable if they dispose of their larger vessels cavalierly.

“People used to just sink boats or put em up on the shore,” Creswell said. “We’re very fortunate that we were able to get that bill approved.”

Busy winter of work coming

Docks and Harbors has more on its plate than just the disposal of one old tugboat, however.

“All our construction gets done during the winter,” Creswell said. “We can’t shut down a harbor to do construction during the summer.”

Don D. Statter Harbor in Auke Bay’s major project, renovating the basin for increased capacity and improved traffic flow, is on time and on target, Creswell said. This winter will involve driving pilings, building a seawall, and installing new floats for the whale watching piers.

“The big win for the locals is this is primarily funded by cruise ship companies,” Creswell said. “It takes all those whale watching boats and puts them all in a single harbor.”

Docks and Harbors is also renovating Aurora Harbor, tearing up floats at the north end of the harbor that aren’t safe for continued use as the Corps of Engineers prepares to dredge that area of the harbor, Creswell said.

“We have decided that the best thing to do and tear out the remaining infrastructure at the north end,” Creswell said. “We will be in the process of searching for more funding to rebuild that north end. That’s an in house project too.”

Seven seasonal staff members are working on the Aurora Harbor project, which is scheduled to wrap up in roughly two months, Creswell said.

Crime prevention

Docks and Harbors is also working on crime prevention measures in the harbor areas, Creswell said, working with the Juneau Police Department and U.S. Coast Guard to quash a trend of petty crimes, including thefts, vandalism and an ongoing investigation into a corpse found washed ashore across the channel in early September.

“Harbors is well aware of the perception of increased crime in the harbors.We take that very seriously and it’s up there in my top priorities,” Creswell said. “We’ve embarked on a project to install many more cameras in the harbors. We’re starting at downtown harbors first — Aurora, Harris and Douglas harbor.”

Creswell urged users of the harbor to be involved with the effort to tamp down criminal behavior in their harbors.

“Our biggest thing is just getting our users involved,” Creswell said. “Make themselves hard targets. Don’t make things easily pilferable, easy to take. We really want people to be involved.”

Mostly, though, 2020 has been a good year for Docks and Harbors, Creswell said.

“We’re really fortunate given everything COVID-related we’re doing OK. Harbors, we had a good productive summer,” Creswell said. “Local boaters are up this year. That might have a lot to do with people not being able to leave. Our launch ramps were plugged all summer even with the bad weather. We had a small downtick with private yachts, but we had a lot of new yachts. Fishing season was kind of give and take.”

[Rainfall-ing short: Juneau’s summer 1 inch shy of record]

Docks and Harbors will keep its eye on the horizon, Creswell said.

“Next year will be better. We think it will be,” Creswell said. “We’re pushing forward. If you’re not building something you need to be planning on it.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com

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