Fight against derelict boats may cost boat owners

To help harbormasters identify and clean up derelict boats, the Alaska Legislature is considering a new fee on boats longer than 24 feet.

The Alaska Senate voted Thursday 18-2 in favor of Senate Bill 92, which requires unregistered boats over 24 feet long to have title documents. It also levies fees on barges and requires the registration of federally documented boats. Federally documented boats would not be required to have a title.

A title would cost $20 and last for life; registration would cost $24 and last for three years. For a barge, registration would be $75 and also last three years.

If also approved by the House and signed into law by Gov. Bill Walker, it would be a first step toward addressing the problem of abandoned boats along Alaska’s coasts, said its lead sponsor, Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna.

“This bill will help us with a process for dealing with the issue,” he said, speaking to the full Senate Thursday. “It is a dramatic improvement of the derelict vessel problem in the state of Alaska.”

The bill does not address the issue of derelict vessels already abandoned on Alaska’s rivers, creeks and bays.

“It doesn’t fix the problem,” said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka.

Stedman was one of two senators to vote against the bill on the Senate floor. Removing the hundreds of derelicts on Interior rivers alone will cost “tens of millions” of dollars, he said Monday.

For example, lifting the tugboat Challenger from Gastineau Channel may have cost as much as $1.7 million, money that — fortunately for the city of Juneau and the State of Alaska — came from the federal government. If the tugboat had run aground instead of sinking, the CBJ may have had to pay.

Bethel’s Steamboat Slough is home to many derelict barges the size of the Challenger.

According to fiscal notes released Saturday by the Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles, the new fees would raise $64,100 in the program’s first fiscal year; startup costs are estimated at $65,000. In the second and the third years of the program, it is expected to raise $128,000, and costs would fall to $50,000 per year. Fee proceeds are expected to fall after that, but remain above the cost of administration.

Minta Montalbo, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Administration, said the DMV “does not anticipate this bill to have an impact on our service delivery. We’ll develop a process for boat titling similar to the one we use for vehicle titling, so we expect to implement the new requirements smoothly and efficiently.”

In Stedman’s view, the pain to the public and the trouble of creating the fee program isn’t worth the benefit to the problem.

“There’s going to be a marginal net benefit that may be close to zero,” he said.

Speaking Monday in front of the House Finance Committee, Micciche said Stedman is right about the scope of that particular problem, but this bill is about turning off the tap, not emptying the sink.

“In order to clean up the Interior problem, it would cost tens of millions of dollars,” Micciche said. “It’s not solving that problem. It’s solving the problem in the future.”

According to a 2014 report entitled “Trends and Opportunities in the Alaska Maritime Industrial Support Sector,” by the year 2025, the state will have more than 3,100 boats and ships longer than 28 feet that are more than 45 years old.

Large boats and ships have a lifecycle, Micciche said. They are sold from owner to owner, and as boats age, their sale price drops but they become more expensive to maintain. Sometimes, they end up in the hands of people who are unable to fix their problems, leading to abandonment.

“As they get passed down, the people that have to deal with it, have the least resources to deal with the vessel in an appropriate manner,” said Carl Uchytil, port director of the City and Borough of Juneau.

This year, he expects the CBJ will spend about $150,000 dealing with derelict vessels in Juneau. Passing SB 92 wouldn’t give municipalities money for cleanup, but it would help them identify and find someone to hold responsible for the abandoned boat.

On Monday afternoon, Uchytil testified in support of SB 92.

“The membership of the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators is in lockstep behind this bill,” he said.

One person testified in opposition to an exemption for international vessels, but no one spoke up in opposition to the bill’s core concept.

Its chief opponent may instead be the Legislature’s approaching end.

“There’s a chance this bill might not make it through this session,” said Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, who urged the finance committee to speed up its work and send it to a vote of the full House.

His fellows on the committee appeared to hear that advice, moving up a deadline for amendment proposals to 9 a.m. Tuesday. The bill remains in committee.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or 523-2258.

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