MARCO ISLAND — Abandoned, derelict vessels continue to litter Collier County waterways as state dollars are not available this year to pay for their excavation.
A 55-foot sailboat named “Victory” is slowly sinking on Marco Island after reportedly being abandoned several years ago.
Jerry Hautman, who lives across the canal from the boat, said he saw it coming.
“This thing was just rotting away and it finally sank,” Hautman said.
“Well, it’s not quite sunk yet,” Marco Police Chief Thom Carr noted, as the boat continues to take in gallons of water and went from merely listing several weeks ago to having a flooded captain’s chair on Monday.
The difference in cost for removing a partially-submerged boat compared with a fully-sunken boat can be tens of thousands of dollars. Additionally, the environmental and navigational hazards increase as the boat sinks deeper.
Abandoned boats are continuing to be found throughout the county, including one in Goodland and one that sunk in Naples last week.
Government coffers are shrinking while many private citizens’ financial constraints mount, so government agencies are still discussing what, if anything, they can do about the growing problem, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Lt. Mitts Mravic.
The owner of the 1977 vessel on Marco, Andrew Thomas Patterson, III, could not be reached for comment on Monday. He and his wife, former Marco City Councilwoman and real estate attorney Jeannette Patterson, own the home across from Hautman.
“It was bad enough to have a derelict house. Now there is a derelict boat,” Hautman said.
Marco officials said the home is in the foreclosure process and Hautman said it is not being maintained.
Carr said police investigators were able to get in touch with the Pattersons, who said on Monday afternoon they would get a mechanic out there right away.
“But we’ve heard that before. We’re waiting to see what they do,” Carr said.
He added that Sea Tow is developing a cost estimate for excavating the vessel, but it will likely cost thousands of dollars to pump out the water, tie buoys to get it afloat, get a barge in the canal and get the boat upright and out to a dump.
“The city doesn’t have the money to pay for that,” Carr said.
The City of Naples also had a 30-foot boat that sunk off its waterways last week and is contending with the same issue. Naples Assistant City Manager Roger Reinke said the city will have to contend with the abandoned, sunken ship because the owner was not stepping up to remove it and couldn’t immediately be reached.
The boat was leaking fuel and needed to be taken care of immediately, Reinke said. If the owner of the boat can’t be located, then the owner of the mooring may become responsible for the bill. Either way, the city can’t afford not to be compensated, he said.
Reinke did not immediately know the cost of the excavation, but said it was a few thousand dollars, and the name of the mooring owner was not immediately available.
Last year, FWC partnered with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to remove derelict vessels from the waterways with state grant money.
In the past two years, Collier County has received approximately $161,000 in grant funds from the FWC, assisting in the removal of 44 vessels from county waters.
Unfortunately, said Mravic, there hasn’t been any state money budgeted for derelict vessel removal this year.
Boat owners who don’t take responsibility can be criminally charged and if they don’t reimburse the government, they can be blacklisted from being able to register a vessel in their name ever again, Mravic said.
Marco Island code enforcement officials tied Patterson’s boat to help secure it, but not much more can be done at this time, Carr said.
“We’re not going to get it out. It’s the owners’ responsibility. Unfortunately, in this case, at this point, it looks like we have an irresponsible owner,” he added.
While Marco’s and Goodland’s derelict vessels are not posing immediate navigational hazards, Mravic said they do pose environmental hazards and if enough of them litter the waterways, broken off sunken vessel parts can cause significant safety concerns.
Hautman said that in addition to the eyesore outside his back door, he is concerned about fuel leaking into the waterway. Marco Island fire officials reported that no contaminants are leaking.
“It’s a situation that should not go on,” Hautman said.