And then there were three ...
Since 2004, when the city of Homer began focusing on the problem of abandoned or derelict vessels in the Homer harbor, eight vessels have been removed. So successful has the program been that only three vessels remain, all of which are slated to be removed or the city is under negotiations with the owner to take elsewhere. Those include the Spanky Paine, a Spanish-American War era boat, and the Honcho, a tugboat tied up next to it on JJ Float and across from the Seldovia Bay Ferry’s Kachemak Voyager.
“This is really good,” said Homer City Manager Walt Wrede of efforts to remove derelict vessels. “That frees up space for working boats. That’s what we want ... It’s a working harbor. It’s not a boneyard.”
A third vessel, the Albert, on the System 5 float, received an impoundment notice last May. A hearing has been postponed as the city works with owner Fred Kelly of Denver to move the boat.
Both the Spanky Paine and Honcho have been impounded by the city and will be hauled up on a barge ramp across from the old chip pad.
Working with Peninsula Scrap, the two boats will have hazardous materials removed, be cut into pieces and moved to the chip pad to be dismantled.
Last November, another derelict vessel, the Inlet Harvester, got moved by a new owner to Unga Island, where it’s being used as a floating breakwater for a fish processing facility. The city waived unpaid moorage fees and the Kenai Peninsula Borough dropped a property tax levy to make it affordable for the new owner to get the Inlet Harvester out of the harbor.
Peninsula Scrap also junked the Husky II, a derelict vessel in the Seldovia harbor. Under grants with the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment, the Husky II was run up on the beach by the Homer Spit Marine Terminal. A heavy hauler barge on the beach there also was junked.
That’s the general strategy of the city in removing derelict vessels: work with owners to find new buyers and move the boats or, if that fails, impound the vessels under the city’s code and cut them up for scrap.
Derelict vessels have become a common problem for Alaska harbors, particularly in small communities.
“Essentially we’re soft targets, especially if you look at small harbors,” said deputy harbormaster Matt Clarke. “Over the course of time these hulks will build up in harbors, especially if there aren’t proactive measures like an underway policy.”
Clarke refers to a regulation recently put in city code that requires any vessel moored long term in the harbor to leave the harbor twice a year under its own power, travel at least a quarter-mile into the bay and return.
“It’s definitely helped,” Wrede said of the vessel underway code. “It lets owners know you have to show us your boat is in working condition. You haven’t walked away from it. You’re actually maintaining it.”
Another problem is a lack of a central salvage and scrap facility in Alaska. Clarke suggested that would be a good use of state and federal grants to build such an operation.
The city also has worked to keep potentially derelict vessels out of the harbor in the first place.
That’s the stance it took with the M/V Chilkat, a historic Alaska ferry, which was refused entry earlier this month. The city is negotiating with the owner to get assurances it won’t become derelict and allow it into the harbor briefly.
“We just need assurances we know who’s responsible, what the work plan is going to be and to make sure the city has tools to deal with the ship if the deal goes south,” Wrede said.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.