Abandoned vessels in Glades County to be investigated

MOORE HAVEN — Community Development Director Susan BuChans presented a plan ultimately OK’d by the Glades County Board earlier this month that may lead to the removal of four partially sunken vessels in county waters, financed mostly by the state.

She told commissioners that the county can apply to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for money under its Derelict Vessel Removal Grant Program, which would reimburse up to 75 percent of the cost to get those privately owned boats taken away so they would cease being hazards to local mariners.

Ms. BuChans said the resolution she was presenting to them would authorize the grant application as a first step so that they don’t miss the chance; one grant cycle already has passed for this program, she said, but in checking with FWC she learned two other cycles follow in November and in January 2019.

“There are two of these vessels located in Indian Hills on the Caloosahatchee Canal; the third one is in the Hicpochee Basin and Caloosahatchee Canal; and the fourth one is located in Ortona on Schooner Lake, Turkey Creek Marina on the Caloosahatchee Canal. I need to find out from you if the board is interested in having any of these vessels removed,” she said.

“The first step is adopting this resolution authorizing us to apply for this grant and the execution of a contract if we should be awarded. And then as we gain more information on what it would cost to remove these, we would bring that back to you,” Ms. BuChans explained.

She told commissioners that the law enforcement agency for these waters is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and that it would have to open enforcement files on each after determining whether they were tied to any dock.

Commissioner Donna Storter Long asked about how soon they could be removed, and she explained that passing the resolution would start the process but it would be too late to apply for the current grant cycle, which ended Oct. 17.

The agency has not examined any of the boats yet, Ms. BuChans said, but if they’re found not to be tied to any dock or nearby upland property, the agency would determine them to be abandoned and secure the vessels if they were in danger of floating away or sinking, and then the county would be eligible for grant reimbursement for removal costs.

Getting estimates of those and hiring someone to proceed with the removal would follow, with the county paying the whole tab up front and then being reimbursed for 75 percent.

If a county resident is found to be responsible for the vessels, said County Attorney Richard Pringle, the person could be cited by county code enforcement and the county could recover costs that way. They also might be able to assess owners for the cost not covered by a grant.

“Is there not anybody who knows who these boats belong to? It’s not the county’s responsibility to pay for (their) trash cleanup,” declared Commissioner Weston Pryor. Commissioner Long noted that she’d been told about them years before by Public Safety Director Bob Jones but that the previous county administrator did not follow up, so she thanked new County Manager Martin Murphy and Ms. BuChans for researching the matter. Mrs. Long’s motion to approve the application was seconded by Commissioner Tim Stanley and passed 5-0.

On other matters, the commissioners also voted 5-0 to advertise weekly for four weeks their intent to pursue establishment of a Municipal Services Benefit Unit countywide for fire protection.

“This is the first step in providing direction to the staff and county if we want to set in motion the ability in the future to put in a non-ad valorem MSBU for fire,” Mr. Jones explained.

County Attorney Pringle said: “It’s a prerequisite. You have to do it before the end of the year in order to potentially pursue the process for next calendar year.”

He said the matter would be brought back for discussion again at the first meeting in December. “It’s the same thing we’ve done several years in a row,” he said.

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