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Feds urged to get Babylon on board boat removal program

Babylon Town officials say dozens of boats are

Babylon Town officials say dozens of boats are cast aside in marinas and marshes. Credit: Town of Babylon

The Town of Babylon needs federal financial assistance to remove boats — including three commercial vessels more than 30 feet long — that have been abandoned in its marinas and marshes, Sen. Chuck Schumer said in a letter sent Friday to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Jr.

The Senate minority leader urged Ross to support the town’s application to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Removal program for $125,000 to remove abandoned vessels, including two large commercial fishing boats and a 50-foot steel barge

"The Town of Babylon has done just about everything it can to stem the tide of abandoned boats, but it’s still a problem that deserves federal support," said Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Specifically, helping Babylon get into ship shape on this issue demands the assistance of NOAA, which has a funding program designed for the problem of abandoned boats that plague many communities. It’s both an eyesore and a budget issue for locals."

Officials from NOAA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Brian Zitani, the Town of Babylon’s waterways management supervisor, said the town estimates there are 40 to 50 vessels — from large commercial barges and fishing boats to small recreational craft — currently abandoned in Babylon’s marinas and waterways. In 2019, town officials removed 46 recreational boats abandoned in marinas, adrift in marshes or grounded onto shoals.

The abandoned boats pose navigational as well as environmental hazards from leaking fuel, motor oil and other contaminants, Zitani said.

"The Town views the removal of the abandoned vessels as critical to both protecting water quality and wildlife in the immediate future, and reversing the perception that abandoning vessels in coastal waterways is permissible in the long-term," Schumer said in his letter.

Schumer said NOAA has the funds to disperse to Babylon through the Marine Debris Removal Program. His letter urged NOAA officials to meet with Babylon officials to assess the situation, discuss the costs with local leaders and award funds to prevent the town from being anchored down by removal costs.

"The issue of abandoned boats in Babylon has a real ripple effect on taxpayers," Schumer said. "Thousands of dollars each and every year add up, risk services and bog down budgets — so NOAA should help ameliorate this problem."

Most boats are abandoned for economic reasons, Zitani said. Owners remove registration numbers and other identifying information and leave the vessels for town officials to deal with because they can no longer afford maintenance, docking fees or other costs, he said. Larger vessels such as commercial fishing boats are abandoned because they are in poor shape.

The Town of Babylon has an "Abandoned Boat Wall of Shame" on its website that features photos of vessels dumped along roads, beaches and in waterways. Owners of abandoned boats face fines between $250 and $1,000 and are also responsible for the cost of removal.

"If we manage to trace boats to their owners, we treat it like abandoned cars or dumping," Zitani said. "We hit them with a bill."

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