Clean sweep for bay - Parks Service targets abandoned vessels

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Derelict boats foundering in Jamaica Bay have met their match: Operation Clean Bay.

The initiative, headed by the National Parks Service in conjunction with state and city agencies, seeks to rid the bay of abandoned boats, which can pose navigational and environmental hazards.

The aim is to stop the expansive bay—which covers about 25,000 acres—from being turned into a de facto graveyard for long-forgotten boats.

So far the initiative has been a swimming success. Roughly 30 vessels have been removed from the water, according to John Daskalakis, the district ranger for the north shore district for the National Parks Service.

He said it is difficult to know the reasons why owners leave their boats to rust and rot in the water.

“The cost of keeping a boat can become excessive,” he said. Sometimes, it is cheaper to sink a boat than to pay for its proper removal, he noted.

The initiative hopes to change that mindset.

Dumping a boat violates city, state and federal laws. “We want to show people that no one is above the law,” Daskalakis said.

Working in conjunction with the National Parks Service is a task force comprising the U.S. Coast Guard, state Department of Environmental Conservation, NYPD, city Department of Environmental Protection, and the city’s Department of Small Business Services’ Dockmaster Unit.

The agencies determine the ownership of the abandoned boats, and move to impose fines.

At the extreme end, fines—levied to the last registered owner of the vessel—can reach a whopping $25,000 a day. A fine in that price range would be for a vessel that is actively leaking oil or gasoline in the water, he noted.

“The thing is, if someone successfully scuttles their boat, they will do it again,” he said.

The initiative started a year ago, and officials began hauling boats out of the water this spring.

Everything from jet skis to two, 100-foot-long commercial barges have been extracted from the water, he said.

Global positioning system readings are used to locate the vessels, Daskalakis said, adding that the baseline data will help officials determine which vessels are newly cast off in the bay.

“I’m hoping that the boats we see in the bay are there because of accidents, or bad storms—things that wound up there not because someone intended it to happen.”

“We don’t want this to be a spot for someone to drop a boat. We want to make sure that this kind of thing ends,” Daskalakis said.

Determining how many boats that remain submerged is murky, he noted.

“I have heard there are 88 boats left in Jamaica Bay, but I have also heard 200. It depends on how you count and who you ask,” Daskalakis said.

Either way, he said, the initiative plans to bring that number down to zero.

To report illegal boat dumping, call 718-338-3718.

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