Abandoned boats litter Virginia’s waterways

Mike Provost has always loved water. He joined the Navy after high school and served for 21 years before retiring to sell electric boats. In his spare time, you’ll find him cruising the Lynnhaven, a tidal river near his home in Virginia Beach. As we pass a neighbor’s wharf, Provost gives a friendly wave, but he’s not happy with what he sees.

“He had a boat that ran aground on a swamp that I removed earlier, and the boat on the left is next on my list,” he laments.

A little over a year ago, Provost spotted an abandoned boat off his favorite beach, where he swims with his three children. It sat there for weeks with fuel, liters of oil and other toxic products on board.

“I called 30 different offices,” he recalls. “I spoke to a hundred different people and no one had the funding or permission to do anything about it, and I was explicitly told that if I didn’t deal with it personally, no, we would have.”

That’s exactly what Provost and a buddy did – raise enough money to bring the boat ashore, smash it to pieces, and take it to a landfill. Then Provost founded a non-profit organization – the Foundation for Disposal and Reuse of Vessels – and began to find sponsors.

He needed $28,500 for his biggest project – the Fantasy, a 35-ton two-masted sailing ship stuck in mud and taking on water in Norfolk Harbour.

“You have to take out a barge. You need a tug to pull the barge,” he explains. “On the barge, you will have a crane with a grapple bucket. You’re probably going to have six crew members working on the problem. »

But even lower bills are too high for many boat owners.

“They are either old, destitute, physically disabled, mentally ill, or drug addicts,” concludes Provost.

It’s technically illegal for people to dump their boats in state waters, but the law is rarely enforced, and some unscrupulous owners donate their boats or sell them to someone else for a song.

“If you go to used boat forums, you’ll see a lot of boats that were made in the 70s and 80s that are being sold for $100 or given away for free, and people are just trying to offload the blame. If I can sell my 40 foot boat for $100, it will save me thousands of dollars to get rid of it.

A federal website shows that abandoned boats are a nationwide problem.

To Lynnhaven River Now, an environmental group on the Virginia coast, Jim Deppe is tracking the issue. He says the situation is getting worse with at least 200 derelict ships identified across the state – more than a dozen sunk in one location.

“In southern Virginia Beach, on the North Landing River, there’s an abandoned boat graveyard where people have just erased all the identifying marks and pulled them into the swamp and sunk them,” says Deppe. .

As boats degrade, small pieces of plastic get into the water – into the fish and into the people or animals that eat those fish. Abandoned boats represent a danger for oyster farmers and discourage those who come here for a change of scenery.

“People come here because of this view, but if you have an abandoned ship right in the middle of where you’re looking, it hurts our tourism.”

The state legislature recently set aside $3 million to study the problem and set up a small office to deal with it, but Mike Provost says it will cost a lot more to get rid of the boats here on Lake Anna, Smith Mountain and other inland lakes. He thinks it’s time to collect a small levy from 225,000 registered boat owners in Virginia, which the state of Oregon already does. This money will probably be needed in the years to come. People viewed boating as a safe way to weather the pandemic, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association reported record sales in 2020.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

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