The tugboat Lumberman is seen aground in Gastineau Channel on Monday, May 21, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The tugboat Lumberman is seen aground in Gastineau Channel on Monday, May 21, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

No end in sight for tug floating in channel

State still looking for money to move Lumberman off tideland

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Coast Guard officials removed fuel from the boat this summer. According to the Department of Natural Resources, this happened last January.

A tugboat has been stuck in the middle of Gastineau Channel for months, and it might not be moving anytime soon.

Gastineau Channel is a patchwork of state, federal and City and Borough of Juneau land, and the tugboat is currently on state tidelands. Therefore, removing the boat is the state’s responsibility, City Manager Rorie Watt reiterated at a CBJ Assembly meeting Monday night.

Chris Carpeneti, a natural resources specialist for the Department of Natural Resources, said in an interview Wednesday that the department is still looking for funding sources to move the boat. Though abandoned vessels are all over Southeast, Carpeneti explained, there still aren’t funds available to deal with them.

“It’s something we have to deal with, derelict vessels,” Carpeneti said. “Unfortunately there’s not a pool of money that’s been developed for DNR to deal with them.”

The Alaska Legislature passed Senate Bill 92 earlier this year, which looks to give local and state governments more tools to enforce laws about derelict vessels. The bill was signed into law Oct. 12, according to the Alaska Legislature’s website.

More boat owners will have to register their boats as part of the legislation, and more fees will be levied on barges. These registration and shipping fees are expected to bring in money for state and municipal governments to use to remove derelict vessels. Carpeneti said he believes the funds from this bill will not be available to them until sometime next year.

In other words, Juneau residents will continue seeing the tugboat — a World War II-era vessel called the Lumberman — for a while longer. The 107-foot boat’s anchor line broke loose in May and it drifted to where it now sits in the channel. The boat is in plain view from Egan Drive as people drive between downtown and the Mendenhall Valley.

Watt gave an update to the Assembly members Monday, saying city staff members have gotten numerous complaints from residents about the Lumberman with the overall sentiment that “we’re watching a slow train wreck in motion,” Watt said. U.S. Coast Guard responders boarded the boat last January (when the boat was still on city tidelands) and got rid of all fuel on board, eliminating the risk of an oil spill, according to an email from DNR Natural Resource Specialist Aaron Timian.

“It’s essentially an eyesore and a solid waste problem that is rising and falling with the tide on state tidelands,” Watt said.

Watt said he’s talked to the CBJ’s lobbyist Kevin Jardell about being assertive with the DNR staff to try and get them to take action. Watt said there hasn’t been much progress on that front. Carpeneti said he believes DNR staff members have been communicating with the CBJ and with the Coast Guard about the boat, but that there just hasn’t been much to report.

This isn’t the first time in recent years a tugboat has gotten loose in the channel. In 2015, the 96-foot tugboat Challenger sunk in the channel. The recovery cost (which was federally funded) was estimated at well over $1 million, according to reports at the time.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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