- Bill DiPaolo Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Abandoned boats — sunken sailboats, beat-up motorboats and creaky houseboats — are cluttering up Jupiter waterways and many local boaters and residents want them hauled away.
“We call it the boat graveyard,” said Jack Walz, a resident of Jupiter Harbour, of Fullerton Island, a 12-acre island the town bought, dredged and turned into a waterway park.
“The town paid $6 million to fix up Fullerton Island, and boaters and resident have to look at this junk?,” said Walz, whose condo overlooks the Loxahatchee River near the island.
Jupiter officials counter they are making progress in eliminating the eyesores near Fullertown Island and other spots in Jupiter. Bureaucracy is slowing the process, they say.
Six derelict vessels in Jupiter have been removed since 2016. Jupiter has the authority to remove a vessel declared as derelict, Police Chief Frank Kitzerow told the town council on Nov. 21.
Hurricane Irma caused some of the havoc: There have been 34 boats in Palm Beach County — three in Jupiter — designated for removal by the U.S. Coast Guard since Irma hit on Sept. 10.
Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management requested about $134,000 from Florida Inland Navigation District to haul out 14 derelict vessels in 2016. The vessels, mostly sailboats, range in size from a 23-footer to a 52-footer. The cost for each removal ranged from $6,900 to $13,100, according to FIND records.
If an owner refuses to pay, they cannot receive a registration for the vessel, or any motor vehicle, until the costs are paid, according to the statute.
It is unknown how often that statute is enforced.
It’s not easy to remove a derelict vessel
Removing the derelict vessels is a time-consuming and expensive voyage, Kitzerow said.
“You got to get the equipment to get them out of the water. Then, you got to take them somewhere. There’s a lot to it,” he said.
Tom Kataras, a boater who lives in Jupiter Cove, is happy that some of the unseaworthy vessels are being removed. It’s long overdue, he said.
“Boaters who leave their vessels unattended think public waterways are a cheap way to moor their boat. Then the public gets stuck with paying to remove them,” he said.
It’s legal to keep a vessel — even live on it — on open water, as long as navigation requirements are met. Those include anchoring out of navigation lanes or private waterways, making sure the vessel works, operating anchor lights, keeping up-to-date Florida registration and not discharging sewage overboard.
Boaters meeting those requirements are not drawing the wrath of waterfront residents and other boaters. It’s the abandoned and unmaintained boats littering north county waterways — “junk platforms” is a polite term boaters call them. Most of the unseaworthy boats in the Jupiter are near Burt Reynolds Park, Fullerton Island, Indiantown Road and DuBois Park.
What’s an ‘at-risk’ vessel?
When law enforcement declares a vessel at risk, the owner is given 21 days to file a request with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for an administrative hearing to contest the status. The owner then has 45 days to bring the vessel into compliance or remove it.
An at-risk vessel does not have an effective means of propulsion, whether it be sail or motor. It may be taking on water, or have no verifiable owner or be in danger of breaking loose from its anchor.
If the owner fixes the problem during the 45-day period, the process starts all over again. In other words, if a sailboat is declared derelict because it does not have propulsion, the owner can avoid being declared a derelict by installing a sail.
“There are people who know how to game the system. They go out there and move something a quarter of a turn every X number of days to avoid detection,” said Jupiter Mayor Todd Wodraska.
If Jupiter police or FWC officials determine a boat is a derelict, they can haul it away.
But just finding the owner of an abandoned or at-risk boat can be complicated. Many vessels don’t have up-to-date registrations. And registration data doesn’t always lead to finding the owner.
“Some registrations turn out to be PO boxes. Finding the owner can take months,” said Jupiter Police Sgt. Shane Lunsford, who works with FWC officials to identify and remove derelict boats.
Other issues with abandoned boats
Another problem with abandoned boats is that they could sink. Identifying these at-risk vessels and requiring that they be kept seaworthy is much less expensive than removing a sunken vessel, they say.
Also, unmaintained vessels spill oil and gasoline. They are dangerous to kayakers, paddle boarders and other boaters. The vessels may not have proper sanitation systems so waste may be discharged overboard. There is potential damage to private and public property if the vessels break loose from their anchors or moorings.
Jupiter Harbour residents have been complaining for years about the abandoned boats, but no progress is being made, said Carole Levine, a 20-year resident of the Jupiter waterfront complex near Burt Reynolds Park West. She can see several listing and ramshackle vessels from her fourth-floor condo window.
“We’re resentful. Fixing this problem is not a priority for the town,” said Levine.
What’s particularly galling to Walz and other boaters is the several abandoned vessels next to recently improved Burt Reynolds Park West. The county last summer spent $1.5 million to add boat-trailer parking and a lighted walkway that allows boaters to walk underneath U.S. 1 to avoid the risky walk across the busy roadway.
“The unmaintained boats off the park limit the beach access for kayaks and paddleboards,” said Walz.