It’s a long process, but Indian River County officials tell Sebastian Daily that eight derelict vessels will be out of the Indian River Lagoon soon. Most of these vessels have been abandoned on shorelines and near the spoil islands in Sebastian since the last two hurricanes.
“Many people do not realize the lengthy process involved with removing a vessel from the Lagoon,” said Eric Charest, IRC Coastal Engineering Division Director.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) also has 16 open derelict vessel cases in Indian River County.
“The County is seeking reimbursement funds ($74,995) from FWC and working with a contractor to remove and dispose of the vessels at an authorized landfill. It could take over a month to remove the boats cleared for removal, but we consider this great news for boaters and the Lagoon,” said Melissa Meisenburg, Lagoon Environmental Specialist.
“The removal of these vessels will improve boater safety and prevent further damage to the lagoon, spoil islands, and shoreline habitats,” added Meisenburg.
The law requires due process in assessing derelict vessels, including vessels damaged during the last two storms.
According to Kathy Copeland, the county’s Legislative Affairs & Communications Manager, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Division explained the process afforded to both derelict vessels (Florida Statute 823.11) and at-risk vessels (327.4107) to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) at Tuesday’s (5/2) meeting.
The investigative process is lengthy but crucial for a derelict vessel case. First, law enforcement officers must locate the vessel registration and hull identification number (HIN) to determine the vessel owner. When the vessel owner is identified, law enforcement notifies the owner of the status of their vessel, giving them 21 days to remove the boat from state waters. If not removed and determined the owner was granted due process, the vessel will be authorized for removal.
If a vessel is determined to be at risk, it must receive three citations in 18 months before the boat can be authorized for removal.
FWC law enforcement and Boating and Waterways engage in outreach campaigns to educate boat owners on their responsibility to maintain and properly dispose of their vessels when left in the waters.
In November of 2022, FWC initiated the Vessel Turn-in Program (VTIP), allowing owners who have received an at-risk citation to surrender their vessel voluntarily. Under this program, the boat is removed from the waters of the State and disposed of at no cost to the owner. VTIP is a proactive approach taken by FWC to mitigate navigational and environmental hazards associated with abandoned vessels.
During last Tuesday’s meeting, the BOCC thanked Lieutenant Grant Eller and Officer Richard Marroquin of the FWC Law Enforcement Division for the informative presentation.
“Tuesday’s presentation was encouraging. The process to remove derelict vessels is tedious, getting the word out about a more expedited process is important. We all have to work together on behalf of the Lagoon,” said Chairman Joseph Earman.