The Oregon Department of State Lands explained this week how it would spend a hoped-for $40 million in general fund appropriations to remove abandoned and derelict vessels from the state’s navigable waterways over the next three years.
Currently, DSL, which is in charge of state-owned river bottoms and banks, uses money from the Common School Fund to haul away and dispose of junk vessels.
“Oregon’s schoolkids foot the bill for cleaning up abandoned and derelict vessels,” DSL director Vicki Walker said. “Every dollar spent cleaning up these messes is a dollar out of the classroom.”
The agency has spent $12.9 million getting rid of unwanted boats since 2017 but has fallen further behind as owners walk away from aging vessels rather than pay the cost of repairing or scrapping them.
DSL has identified 19 commercial vessels abandoned in state waters, including three large ones in the Columbia River: the Alert, the Sakarissa and the Tiffany. It’s currently in the process of removing a century-old river ferry, Tourist No. 2, from waters near Astoria.
Some of the larger boats can cost well over $1 million to remove and in the meantime create hazards for recreational water users and threaten marine environments with spills and contamination.
In addition to the large commercial boats, there are hundreds of recreational vessels abandoned or derelict in state waters, including more than 175 in the Portland metro area.
In a timeline and work plan DSL presented to the State Land Board this week, the agency proposes to team up with a variety of partners to get rid of the boats, starting with the big ones first and then fanning out across state waterways.
“This is complex work, and the importance of ongoing collaboration to identify problems, priorities, and solutions cannot be understated,” Walker told the three members of the Land Board: Gov. Kate Brown, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, and State Treasurer Tobias Read.
“DSL is committed to working with legislators, state and federal agencies, local governments, ports, and other partners to develop long-term comprehensive solutions for addressing abandoned and derelict vessels.”
Land Board members are supportive of DSL seeking the general fund money from the Oregon Legislature next year. There’s no certainty lawmakers will agree—but if they do, a secondary question will be whether the funding is enough to tackle the largest concentration of abandoned and derelict boats in Portland, those clustered around the southern tip of Ross Island in the Willamette River.
Unlike most river bottoms in the state, much of the Willamette River bottom around Ross Island has long been privately owned, first by Ross Island Sand & Gravel and now by the R.B. Pamplin Corp. pension fund, as WW has previously reported.
Related: Private Ownership of Ross Island Creates a Safe Harbor for Transient Boaters
Many people who live on derelict vessels in the Willamette have discovered a loophole—Pamplin officials won’t tow them or otherwise block them from anchoring over the privately owned bottomlands. And, the Multnomah County sheriff’s River Patrol won’t enforce anti-camping laws on private property. Whether new funding could change that is anybody’s guess.