Local nonprofit on a mission to address recent boat crashes
After cleaning up a medium-sized boat that had crashed into the shoreline between East Beach and Hammonds Beach in November, local nonprofit Heal the Ocean believes it’s time for some change.
The crashing waves on Butterfly Beach distributed the broken parts over a half mile of the shoreline over the course of two weeks, creating a hazard for beachgoers.
However, the mess couldn’t be cleaned up sooner due to the “two-week rule,” which says that if a boat lands on the beach, no one can salvage it, touch it or move anything until the owner has a chance to salvage it themselves.
After two weeks, unless the boat owner has insurance to pay for the cleanup, it’s up to members of the public to clean it all up.
On Nov. 11, Heal the Ocean, with funding by the Johnson Ohana Foundation, paid for MarBorg Industries to bring in a crew and heavy equipment to remove the fractured boat.
The task took 12 crew members, an equipment operator, a CAT Excavator, a roll-off driver and truck and a semi-low-bed-and-driver. They removed things such as splintered pieces of wood, boat machinery, cushions, electronics and other hazardous debris.
This wasn’t MarBorg’s first rodeo with a crashed boat, either, as the industry specializes in boat removals at low tide when owners can’t do it themselves.
Now, Hillary Hauser, the executive director of Heal the Ocean, is addressing the issue with Harbor Operations and city, county and state agencies to find a way to limit the crashing of boats on the beaches or to find means of insurance or grants for cleanup.
“We’re talking about toxic materials, we’re talking about oil, we’re talking about battery acid and people on a major recreational beach,” Ms. Hauser told the News-Press. “Heal the Ocean goes where we see a problem, and this needs solving, and it needs solving now.”
Ms. Hauser said there’s a few key points she hopes to address with Santa Barbara County specifically, including requiring insurance from boats that anchor offshore and getting rid of the two-week rule. In addition, she wants to discuss the county accessing Boating and Waterways funding for derelict boat removal and immediate action on carting the boat off the beach within two days.
The executive director compared the two-week rule preventing the cleanup of a crash to leaving a crashed car on the freeway, untouched, for two weeks.
“In two weeks, this boat was already in the sand… They had to move boulders aside, kelp aside, pull out this nasty battery and engine parts that were sunk into a tide pool and hidden,” she said. “And we’re still left with pieces of splintered wood.
“Walking in sand and stepping on a nail is not fun.”
The owner of this specific boat that had crashed has not been named, but finding the owner is typically under the responsibility of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, which seeks repayment for cleanup operations, according to local media reports.
Ms. Hauser said another large part of Heal the Ocean’s mission to prevent these situations is to look into state grants for abandoned vessels. She said that because this specific boat crash wasn’t on the city side, “this mess was in the county,” so she called various divisions such as Public Works and Parks and Recreation.
“If the county had money for this and sat on it, well you’re going to see some griping and yelling from me, and I’m going to ask to be paid back,” she said. “Where were you guys? We called and called, and this non-response of the county is inexcusable.”
On Dec. 10, Ms. Hauser plans to meet with the County Board of Supervisors to address the issue, in hopes of preventing any more hazards to beachgoers.
“We don’t have it in our mission statement, ‘Heal the Ocean will now go clean up the beaches of crashed boats,’” she said. “But we’ll start with what the regulations are about beached boats and it will be Heal the Ocean’s goal to get rid of it.”