A privately-owned and abandoned former military boat recently burned by a fire will remain in one of Sacramento County’s waterways along with more than 30 other discarded watercraft, creating health and safety hazards.
It would cost the county an estimated $6 to $9 million to safely remove and dispose of these “abandoned and derelict commercial vessels,” and there currently is no California program with the funding, authority or expertise to do the job. So, the abandoned vessels will continue to sit there in the water.
“We don’t know how long they will remain there,” said Natasha Drane, Sacramento County’s governmental relations and legislative officer.
A fire on Tuesday evening gutted the 85-foot former military boat moored on the Sacramento River. The Sacramento Fire Department responded and extinguished the blaze that burned the vessel, named the All American, tied off near Bryte Bend.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response contained the oil spilled out of the boat, and a hazardous materials removal was underway. County officials said authorities have not identified an owner for the boat.
Aside from the fire hazards, Drane said these abandoned watercraft can release pollutants into the water. They’ve encountered watercraft with barrels of oil, she said, and other harmful materials that can leach into the water, such as solvents, asbestos-containing materials, copper and lead-based paints and batteries.
“It’s a potential health and environmental hazard,” Drane told The Sacramento Bee.
These abandoned vessels can also sink, creating navigational hazards for other watercraft.
“You can potentially hit one of these things if you can’t see them,” Drane said.
That’s why the county is sponsoring Senate Bill 1065 introduced by Sen. Susan Eggman, D-Stockton. The proposed legislation would create the California Abandoned and Derelict Commercial Vessel Program to keep waterways clean and safe.
With $25 million from the state’s General Fund, this proposed state program would be tasked with inventory, removal and destruction of these abandoned vessels. The program also would coordinate federal, state and local agencies to provide oversight of removal efforts in a “holistic” manner, Drane said.
A 2018 aerial survey by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife found about 50 abandoned vessels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Drane said. Photos of discarded watercraft found in the county’s jurisdiction include abandoned cranes and barges.
SB 1065 recently passed with a 9 to 0 vote out of the Assembly Natural Resources and Water Committee. County officials said they won’t know until the state finalizes its budget through trailer bills whether the $25 million request for the vessel removal program will be approved.