A new Florida law could make it easier for local governments and law enforcement to remove derelict boats from waters in their jurisdictions.
Derelict boats are an environmental hazard and safety concern, state and local officials have said. After three years of confusion since rules for removing derelict boat changed, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law (SB 1666), which changes the time frame for boat removal, studies the impact on the environment specifically where these boats are left behind, and adds a source for continuous grant funding for derelict boat removal. The new law goes into effect July 1.
The Sun spoke to Phil Horning, Derelict Vessel Program administrator for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Division of Law Enforcement, Boating and Waterways Section, who helped change the law.
The new law is intended to save taxpayers money, eliminate navigation hazards and reduce the potential for environmental damage caused by leaking fuel, oil or even sewage from the vessel’s waste tank. The law prohibits a person who leaves or abandons a derelict vessel from residing or dwelling on the vessel until it is permanently removed from state waters or returned to waters in a non-derelict condition.
What is FWC’s part in this new law?“The new law requires the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, FWC, to study the impacts to local communities of boats stored long-term on Florida waters outside of public mooring fields.
“Long-term storage is defined as a boat not under the supervision or control of a person capable of maintaining, operating, or moving it from one place to another and which has remained anchored or moored outside of a public mooring field for at least 30 days out of a 60-day period. Live-aboards and transient boats aren’t mentioned in the law.
The FWC study investigates and determines how long-term stored vessels contribute to the number of derelict or abandoned vessels on state waters. Long-term stored or unattended boats affect public safety, may become hazards to navigation, can impact the environment, and contribute to the cost of vessel cleanup, especially after a hurricane.”
How long is the study projected?“The study can take up to two years and is subject to funding,” Horning said.
Why was the bill created?“FWC needs to determine the root cause of how derelict vessels are generated and alternative ways to prevent that from happening,” Horning said, adding if the study finds that long-term stored vessels are a problem, the next step includes legislative recommendations, which may include time limits for how long such vessels can be anchored or moored on state waters outside of mooring fields.
What else is new with the grant program?The law requires a portion of vessel registration fees by counties to be deposited into the Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund to continually replenish the FWC Derelict Vessel Removal Grant Program. Any appropriated funds not used by local governments for derelict vessel removal by a certain time may be used by FWC to remove derelict vessels.
How does the grant work now?FWC was given $1 million after Hurricane Irma in 2017 to offer to local cities, counties and law enforcement grants for derelict boat removal. Once the money ran out, there was no guarantee it would be replaced for future hurricanes.
However, the new law makes funds available through vessel registrations to assist in removing derelict vessels in local jurisdictions. The bill also specifies fines for violations related to no-discharge zones. The bill authorizes, upon federal approval, counties designated as rural areas of opportunity to create within their jurisdiction a “no-discharge zone” where treated and untreated sewage discharges are prohibited for specified vessels.
The bill imposes a civil penalty if an unlawful discharge is made in a no-discharge zone.
What else can the money be used for?“It also allows for FWC to utilize these funds to directly hire contractors to remove derelict vessels if funds remaining in the account have not been requested by the end of the third quarter of the fiscal year by counties and cities for derelict vessel removal activities. Therefore it would be a benefit for counties to apply for and receive funding for specific derelict vessel projects within their jurisdictions as soon as the funding becomes available.
“Also, for derelict vessel cases, owners or responsible parties may no longer be able to reside or dwell on such vessels under certain procedural conditions.”
Can more be done to help with derelict boat removal?“We are in the process of revising our Derelict Vessel Removal Grant guidelines. Instead of offering grant applications during certain times during the year, we want to make it continuous. Municipalities can apply at any time during the budget year for eligible vessel removal projects. Currently, there’s a 45-day grant application cycle. This should make it easier for applicants to apply within their own needed time frames for removal assistance,” Horning said.
Are there other changes to the Derelict Vessel Removal grant?“We intend to eliminate the requirement for a 25% match by the applicant (meaning cities and counties no longer have to help pay the cost to remove the boat). The grant will provide 100% of the removal cost available for reimbursement. The changes to the grant guidelines must first be approved by the Commissioners and then incorporated into rule before becoming effective,” Horning said.
Are derelict boat grant funds available?“Yes, the FWC has $800,000 for derelict boat removal grants for municipalities, counties and other authorized governmental entities to apply for these funds. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, June 18. Guidelines can be downloaded at MyFWC.com/DVGrant. Applications are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis until all available funds have been expended. Applicants should call the FWC Boating and Waterways Section at 850-617-9540 to determine available funding before mailing or emailing an application,” according to Horning.
Who has answers about the new law, derelict boat removal?For more information or potential applicants can call or write Phil Horning, FWC Derelict Vessel Program administrator at 1-850-617-9540 or Phil.Horning@MyFWC.com.