A recently introduced bill inspired by Crazy Girl and a handful of other boats evicted from local marinas last summer would tighten regulations for sunken or abandoned boats in Maryland waters if a bill by Sen. Sarah Elfreth, D-Annapolis, passes.
Elfreth has introduced Senate Bill 219, which authorizes the Department of Natural Resources to act without first notifying a boat’s last known owner if it poses immediate hazards. It also prohibits the department from using Natural Resources Police administrative funds to remove or store abandoned boats.
Elfreth said she has almost all the other waterfront-district senators aboard. She hopes to prevent any more abandoned vessels, which she said threaten navigation, safety, and the health of the Chesapeake Bay. House Minority Leader Del. Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, has cross-filed the bill.
The bill would also change the definition of “abandoned or sunken vessels.”
It decreases the amount of time a boat has to be untouched by its owner or guardian before it is considered abandoned — from 90 days untouched without consent at a private marina or boatyard, to 30 days. And it splits up a multi-part definition so that any of the following circumstances can qualify a vessel as sunken or abandoned:
- A boat that has been found adrift or unattended in or upon Maryland waters
- A boat that is found in disrepair
- A boat that is presenting a health or environmental hazard
The bill’s inspiration, Crazy Girl — a 32-foot Trojan cruiser — was evicted in July from a South River marina and was later abandoned. Neighbors of the abandoned boats said they reported the boat to the Department of Natural Resources multiple times, but the department said they were unable to do anything until the boat was in disrepair.
Crazy Girl eventually sank and was dredged out by the Department of Natural Resources. Elfreth estimated it cost taxpayers about $9,600 more to remove it after it sunk than if the state towed it while it was still afloat — which would have cost about $2,400.
“The saga of Crazy Girl is not unique to my community,” Elfreth said, noting that waters across Maryland are plagued with abandoned vessels. “Our constituents expect government to do its job and remove these vessels when they pose a threat.”
The boat could have leaked fuel into the bay after sinking, and wasn’t lit up at night — a hazard for other boats.
Hamilton Chaney, whose family owns Herrington Harbour Marinas, said that boats left in open water quickly become a danger to others trying to navigate.
“The quicker the response to remove the boat, the better for the safety of the boater, the health of the bay and less costly to the state of Maryland,” Chaney said. “The same things hold true for both public and private property.”
Angelina Scarton, the owner of Crazy Girl and other boats with similar fates, was cited with two counts of abandoning a vessel — a misdemeanor punishable with a fine of up to $1,000 or a maximum of six months imprisonment, according to the Natural Resources Police.
Scarton said she believes the process was not followed in her case but declined to comment further, citing an ongoing court case.
Scott Allan, a local boater, testified in favor of the bill.
“The corny analogy is if you had a car parked, disabled, leaking fuel in the middle of Forest Drive, how long do you think it would be here,” Allan said.
Susan Zellers, executive director of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland, said this bill will also help marina operators who have to deal with boats abandoned in their marinas. Changing the required wait time from 90 days untouched on private property to 30 days would allow them to contact the Department of Natural Resources for help with abandoned boats much sooner.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Abandoned boats can also have an environmental impact. Maryland fisheries scientist Allison Colden, of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said boats left free-floating can cause damage to sensitive habitats.
She said she supports the bill because it authorizes the Department of Natural Resources to disregard the time a boat has been abandoned in the case that there is a health or environmental hazard.
“We believe that the discretion to act quickly in cases of imminent environmental, public health or navigation harm is very important because the longer that vessel stays there leaking oil, fuel and other chemicals into the environment, the harder and more challenging it is to clean that up,” Colden said.
No opponents of the bill gave verbal testimony at the hearing.
“This is a good government bill that, at the end of the day, seeks to fix a problem that touches nearly every coastal community,” Elfreth said.
Capital reporter Alex Mann contributed to this report.