Lawmakers are planning to give another $11.7 million toward the removal of derelict vessels in Florida waterways.
The Wednesday appropriation of federal COVID-19 relief dollars adds to the $8.2 million agreed on Tuesday in the state budget.
In all, the $19.9 million will fund a state-offered removal program that reimburses local governments that pluck eligible vessels out of public waters.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) oversees the program. It says Florida is “plagued” with derelict and abandoned vessels.
“These vessels become derelict vessels quickly and then subject the boating public to safety issues, become locations for illegal activity, illegal housing, opportunities for theft and vandalism and ultimately cost the taxpayers to be removed by Local, County or State authorities,” says an FWC website.
It is unclear exactly how many derelict boats are resting in Florida’s waterways, though a First Coast News report said the state was managing 557 active derelict boat cases in 2021.
“A vessel is considered derelict when it is left stored or abandoned in a wrecked, junked or demolished condition on public waters or private property without the consent of the property owner,” explains a Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles webpage.
Boat owners who intentionally abandon a ship may face steep penalties. According to FWC, intentionally dumping a vessel in state waters is a third-degree felony. Violators may face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine plus the cost of removal.
“Every vessel owner should realize that there will be an end of life for their vessel,” FWC added. “If they have an opportunity to legally sell the vessel near its end of life, that’s great! If not, the owner must have a plan to properly dispose of the vessel.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis last year signed legislation to address the rise of derelict boats. The bill (SB 1086) empowered law enforcement to take action on at-risk vessels, among other effects.
Florida considers a vessel at-risk if it is taking on water, breaking loose from its anchor or is without an effective means of propulsion, among other factors.
Both the House and Senate get millions in tax revenue to play with near the end of budget negotiations. That money is spread across different projects in what’s known in legislative parlance as the “sprinkle list.”
The House and Senate released their “sprinkle lists” Wednesday evening. Leaders agreed on $759 million for local projects.
The release of the list is a sign budget negotiations are wrapped and the Legislature will hit its new planned end date of Monday, March 14.