The owner of a 107-foot tugboat that recently sank said plans to remove the vessel are now underway — but it will come at a steep price.
“Everyone I’ve talked to said it would cost anywhere between $150,000 and $500,000,” said the owner, Don Etheridge, in an interview Friday afternoon. “I ain’t got a half a million dollars, I can’t get half a million dollars.”
The 81-year-old boat, the Tagish, is uninsured. According to Matt Creswell, City and Borough of Juneau harbormaster, after the initial oil cleanup mitigation efforts done by the Docks and Harbors staff along with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation were finished Thursday afternoon, the owner has all recovery responsibilities.
Divers were expected to head into the water to plug off the vents from the fuel tank on Friday, however, due to weather conditions efforts were postponed.
The Tagish had a long history beyond its time owned by Etheridge. Built in 1943, it originally served as a fireboat replacement for the Navy Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, according to Tugboatinformation.com.
After that, it went through multiple ownerships before being purchased in 2006 by Etheridge, who is the board chair of Dock and Harbors. Since then, it has sat at the National Guard dock as a personal restoration project. Etheridge said over the years he’s spent several thousand dollars and hundreds of hours of work to build an all-new interior and replace engine parts.
Since being notified of its sinking early Thursday morning, Etheridge said he’s been talking with multiple contractors to figure out a solution for a removal process, but said no matter what happens it’s going to be a big challenge with a heavy cost.
“You’re looking at 300 tons of boat there — it’s not a simple thing to move,” he said. “I’m faded and I’m trying to figure it out — I don’t know yet.”
Etheridge said he’s looking at cashing in on his retirement, taking a second mortgage on his house or any other source of funds to pay for the removal and the multiple costs associated with it, but said he has not made any definite plans yet.
A GoFundMe to assist Etheridge’s recovery efforts has been set up by Juneau resident Tom Bryce, a longtime friend of Etheridge. Bryce said he was “heartbroken” to hear of the sinking and wants help in whatever way he can.
“It’s going to be a major financial burden, and he has been such an asset to this community so whatever I can do I want to do to help him,” he said.
Rorie Watt, CBJ city manager, described the sinking as a “tough situation” and both a liability issue for CBJ and a pollution problem for the harbor.
According to Creswell, approximately 60 gallons of diesel fuel and 50 gallons of lube oil were on board the vessel when it sank. In response, DEC booms were placed in the water and absorbent pads were used to soak up spillage.
Watt said despite the dock it was moored at being called the National Guard dock, it’s actually owned by the city and any damage to the dock from the sinking will have to be repaired and any costs must be recouped by the city.
Watt said he sympathizes with Etheridge, but emphasized that his position as the board chair of Dock and Harbors gives him no special privileges, and said CBJ will treat him the same as any other resident who found themselves in a similar situation.
“We’re not in the business of letting people damage city facilities,” Watt said. “It’s not acceptable to have it sitting at the bottom of the ocean for a prolonged period of time.”
Watt said the city will be issuing a request for an action plan to be made by Etheridge in a matter of days and expects the vessel to be removed from the water in around a month.
Etheridge said he could not say if he will be able to meet those timelines.
“It’s gonna sit there until I figure out what to do,” he said.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.