Derelict boat laws too lenient | Editorial

Penn Cove, Central Whidbey’s “Particular Friend” as the late Coupeville  historian Jimmie Jean Cook put it in the title of her popular book, has never had a more difficult week.

By fuel spill standards it wasn’t huge, but several thousand gallons of diesel leaked from the derelict fishing boat Deep Sea after it sank Sunday following a fire that started Saturday night.

The state closed shellfish gathering and aerial photos showed a sheen on the water just offshore from the town of Coupeville and affecting the famous mussel rafts owned by Penn Cove Shellfish. The mussels are grown well under water, so hopefully the spill will dissipate in a hurry and there will be no long-term environmental or economic losses.

Ironically, the spill coincides with this week’s Penn Cove Water Festival, which celebrates Coupeville’s historic seafaring ties to the water. Organizers announced Thursday the show would go on. Indians will arrive for their traditional canoe races, and only minor negative impacts are anticipated.

Still, many residents throughout Whidbey Island and the entire state shed tears of worry over their “particular friend,” and agreed that such a thing should never have happened. How could an abandoned fishing boat loaded with fuel be allowed to anchor in pristine waters unattended for many months?

State law regulates how derelict boats are treated, and there’s no need to place blame on any one agency or individual other than Rory Westmoreland, the owner of the boat, who was being fined at the rate of $83.44 per day, starting at the 30 day mark. The bill had reached $5,250 as of the day of the fire.

Obviously, the Department of Ecology needs the power to quickly remove derelict boats from where they are moored if they are deemed an  environmental threat. As the experience with the Deep Sea proves, levying a relatively small fine doesn’t deter such irresponsibility.

After a matter of days, not weeks or months, the DOE should have the power to order a boat towed to a safer place at the expense of the owner. If the owner can’t pay, there should be criminal penalties if taxpayers have to pick up the towing tab. Either way, the environment should be the top priority.

Our 10th District delegation to Olympia should waste no time crafting a new law to allow the quick removal of derelict boats, more than 200 of which exist in Puget Sound.

We have to treat our friends better than this, especially our particular friends.










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