No Boats About It


 Some abandoned derelict boats around Jamaica Bay that have become eyesores are being addressed. On Friday, October 23, an old houseboat that washed up on a marshland near Broad Channel in Jamaica Bay more than two years ago, was finally removed as part of an NYC Cleanup Initiative, with funding secured from Councilman Eric Ulrich.

Last Friday, the Rockaway Times joined Councilman Ulrich, Dan Mundy Sr. and Jr. of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, representatives from the NYC Parks Department and others to observe a demonstration of one of many abandoned boats around the city, be removed by a tugboat operated by contractor Custom Marine. The latest action around Jamaica Bay was made possible by $55,000 in city taxpayer funding secured by Councilman Ulrich earlier this year.

While the removals are necessary, Councilman Ulrich emphasized that taxpayer money shouldn’t be necessary to do so. He hoped to send a message to deter boat owners from abandoning vessels in the future. “These boats are eyesores and people don’t realize that when they abandon them, they’re polluting our waters and causing millions of dollars in environmental damage to the bay. These are places where people live and where wildlife needs a sustainable, clean environment. What they’re doing is sinful,” Ulrich said. “There’s a price tag attached to this and it’s city taxpayer money that we’re using and it’s great that we’re cleaning this up, but we shouldn’t have to be here.”

Nate Grove, Chief of Waterfront and Marine Operations at the NYC Parks Department, says through the NYC Cleanup Initiative, they’ve removed upwards of 300 vessels and 200 cubic yards of debris from the city’s lands and waterways over the past five years. About two dozen of those vessels have come from around Jamaica Bay and it is expected that there are at least 100 more around NYC that still await removal. Grove explained that people often cannot keep up with the costs of maintaining and insuring vessels, so many boat owners wind up jumping ship. He added that in many instances, even though boats have to be registered through the NYS DMV, it’s difficult to hold vessel owners accountable for abandoning their boats, as any identifiable markings are often removed prior to the vessels being abandoned. The vessels being removed, depends on available funding, and the process isn’t cheap. “Without Council support, we wouldn't be here today, doing this great environmental clean-up that is going to help both better navigation, as well as mitigate environmental hazards,” Grove said.

Prior to Friday’s removal, a great deal of prep work went into getting the houseboat ready for removal. This including patching up any holes, removing water from the vessel using generators and waiting for an extreme high tide to move it closer to the shoreline for Friday’s demonstration. To discard the boat, any remaining fuel and engines will need to be removed before the fiberglass structure can be crushed for proper disposal.

"I am proud to fund this clean-up initiative, which will target the most problematic areas in Jamaica Bay - a local treasure,” Ulrich said. “I'd like to thank the Dept. of Parks & Recreation, as well as the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, for their joint effort to restore and clean-up the Bay."

The Mundys of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, which works with the city to identify abandoned vessels that can be removed at low cost, said, "These derelict vessels cause a lot of environmental problems, as well as aesthetic problems when you look at the shoreline. There is no City, State or Federal agency designated to address this, so if the Councilman hadn't stepped up, these abandoned boats would stay here forever and just continue to harm the environment."

Ulrich hopes that more of these removals will continue, but more importantly, that boat owners will take more responsibility and properly dispose of their vessels in the future.

Photos by Emil Cohen.
By Katie McFadden