Pinellas County begins removing derelict boats from the area's waterways
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the county has begun removing the neglected boats, which had become an "eyesore" and pose a safety threat to swimmers and boaters.
Pinellas County has begun removing almost three dozen derelict boats along the county's waterways.
Speaking at a Monday news conference along the Intracoastal Waterway in Dunedin, before one derelict boat behind him was removed, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced the county could begin the effort to remove "34 boats that fit the definition of a derelict boat" after a new process was put in place that would allow the boats to be removed.
"We've needed to deal with this for a while," Gualtieri said.
Gualtieri cited safety concerns, along with concerns from residents that the neglected boats had become an "eyesore."
"They've just been abandoned irresponsibly by their owners, left there, and some have been left there for a year or a hear and a half," Gualtieri said. "They're a danger to the public, they're a danger to boaters, a danger to people that are on personal watercraft, and a danger to swimmers. And besides that, they're also an eyesore."
Through a new process established by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Gualtieri said the county began posting notices on these boats 21 days ago.
During that period, Gualtieri said owners could request a hearing that would allow them to keep the boats and not have them removed.
If the owners do not respond to the notice, Gualtieri said "we can remove and destroy the vessels."
Gualtieri said that process began on Monday, and will continue throughout the week, "to get as many of these boats out of the water as we possibly can."
"The 21-day period for a majority of the vessels expired last week," Gualtieri said. "Today, we begin snatching these vessels out of the water."
During the press conference, Gualtieri also addressed residents' concerns about people living on boats, along with what some consider illegal mooring of their boats.
Gualtieri pointed to complaints from residents who question whether "live-aboards" are legally residing in their boats.
He said such living arrangements are legal, as long as the boat has "navigable propulsion" — a proper motor or sails that will allow it to travel in the water.
"People call a lot and talk about that they live on the Intracoastal Waterway and there's two or three boats behind their house and somebody's living on them," Gualtieri said. "It's legal. And that is something that if people have concerns about, it should be addressed through the Legislature and through a change in the laws.
"But it doesn't matter what the boat looks like, it doesn't matter what color it is, it doesn't matter how big it is, it doesn't matter how small it is. If somebody's living on it, and it can meet a navigable propulsion test that will be administered through an investigative process, then there's nothing we can do about it."
He also addressed concerns about boaters who may be illegally mooring their boats.
According to Gualtieri, boaters can attain a permit through the state that would allow them to group together and secure their boats to a buoy that's attached to permanent anchors.
"If 5-6 boats gather at Treasure Island and they all group up and they all throw an anchor, that's not a mooring field," Gualtieri said.
"A mooring field is when somebody sinks something to the bottom and it's with concrete or rebar, and there's a buoy that pops up and somebody comes on and clips onto the buoy. It's illegal — it's a crime, it's a misdemeanor — to place an illegal mooring field, and it's also illegal and it's a crime to attach to an illegal mooring field.
Gualtieri said "we're going to cite the people who dropped it and the people who moored to it, and we're going to have that mooring field removed."