The Coast Guard brought in a much larger floating crane last week to prepare for the weekend removal of the Alert, one of two vessels that sank near the Interstate 5 Bridge and part of a complicated project to lift the former World War II submarine chaser and move it to a shipyard.
Amid the complex and expensive — nearly $3.25 million — spectacle of lifting and moving the Alert and, earlier last week, the sunken towboat Sakarissa, there’s a plan for Oregon’s government to better prevent boats from becoming derelict.
The Oregon Legislature will consider the plan in the next session, which might lead to also removing the roughly 250 other abandoned, derelict boats in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.
“I’m so grateful we got to a solution here,” said Capt. Scott Jackson, commander of Coast Guard Sector Columbia River.
The historic Sakarissa and Alert ships were going to be restored and turned into museum exhibits by a man named Harvey Walter James, but he could not raise enough money for the fix-ups. James died sometime in the last few years, but details about the former owner are sparse.
Both ships had homeless people living on and in them. The Coast Guard saw evidence that someone had cut holes in the pipes and the hull, causing both ships to sink within the past year.
The Oregon Department of State Lands, which owns the land underneath the sunken ships, officially seized control of both boats after they sunk. The agency was aware of the boats and the homeless people living on them, but there isn’t a state program to coordinate the removal of abandoned ships until they’ve sunk and caused a greater issue, said Bill Ryan, deputy director for operations at the Oregon Department of State Lands.
Ryan said that local law enforcement was reluctant to remove the homeless people living on the ships, further delaying the removal.
Once the ships sunk, the removal process became easier for both the Oregon Department of State Lands and the U.S. Coast Guard, said Ryan.
That might change with a new push to have a system to better prevent and also remove the other derelict boats in Oregon, mostly in the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.
Ryan said he wants Oregon to replicate some of Washington’s vessel oversight programs. He wants Oregon to have the ability to better register boats, enforce insurance requirements for boats and track who owns them. Washington has a law that the seller and buyer of a boat must have insurance.
A draft of a bill is being analyzed by the Oregon governor’s office now, he said.
“If people have an old boat, and they want to get rid of it, they can sell it to someone for a dollar,” he said. “If you’re driving your car down the street and you leave it on the side of the street, it would take police a short time to know whose it is.”
Removing all the 350 or so abandoned or derelict vessels in Oregon could cost $40 million, Ryan said.
The Oregon Department of State Lands is next month going to consider ending overnight camping on the stretch of Hayden Island beach near the sunken ships. There are still signs of campfires and encampments near where the ships sank.