FWC changes derelict boat program to help clean up efforts

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

Tired of seeing boats littered all over the place? Well, a change to a state program could help get them removed, protect our environment, and save taxpayer dollars at the same time.

If you look out your car window as you head to Fort Myers Beach, you can’t miss the sea of derelict boats. For a better view, head to Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Cafe.

“There’s so many of them, and everybody’s so busy, trying to get them all trying to get the canals and waterways cleared. And we get it,” said Kerby Bowe, the general manager at Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Cafe.

Bowe knows we’re all in the same boat, doing our best, but he wonders when the boat on his property will get removed.

“We’re trying to rebuild the building. But we’d like to get working on the dock,” said Bowe.

Boat stuck on Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Cafe’s dock. (Credit: WINK News)

Florida Fish and Wildlife’s derelict vessel removal program offers grants to help pay for removal. In the past, a boat had to be derelict, but now, FWC is opening up the program and dollars to clear the boats before they become a bigger issue.

“And if we’re able to remove the vessel, when it’s in an at-risk condition before it becomes derelict, the cost of removal is decreased drastically,” said Captain Travis Franklin, with the FWC Division of Law Enforcement. “That way, the counties and local governments can expend their funds elsewhere, and derelict vessels are removed with those state grant funds, as well as the at-risk public nuisance vessels.”

When is a boat considered at risk of becoming derelict?

“A vessel is taking on or has taken on water without an effective means to de-water. The vessel was broken loose from its anchor or is in danger of breaking loose from its anchor. There are spaces on the vessel that are designed or incapable of being sealed off, such as hatches for extended periods of time. The vessel lacks an effective means of propulsion for safe navigation,” said Franklin.

In other words, many boats that broke loose or were damaged during Ian would be considered at risk.

FWC has identified 700 derelict boats in Lee County. They are stamped with a red sticker, and over half have been removed, but there is still work to be done.

“We had the Coast Guard here. They pumped out the fuel,” said Bowe.

Fuel isn’t the only environmental danger.

“When they sink upon waters of this state, cause environmental damage to the sea bottom, the ocean bottom, the seagrasses,” said Franklin.

They can create harmful conditions for wildlife and even other boaters.

The City of Fort Myers said it plans to apply for a grant.

If you locate a derelict or at-risk vessel in the water, contact FWC at 888-404-3922. If you have a boat in your yard and not on state waters, FWC says you should call the debris clean-up hotline at 850-488-5600.

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