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"Everybody wants them out!" In N Ft Myers, boaters have to dodge sunken vessels

FWC is working to address the derelict vessel backlog, but it will take several years.
Posted at 5:04 PM, Mar 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-11 22:20:44-04

NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. — Even before Hurricane Ian, boaters could see derelict vessels on the water. Some people in a North Fort Myers neighborhood say they are frustrated with the amount of time it's taking for the state or owners to remove them.

"Nobody wants these boats out there," said Steve Johnson, who has to navigate his boat around the rundown vessels. "You'll see these boats appear and you can tell they kinda become derelict vessels."

His 22-foot boat is fairly easy to navigate around damaged boats, but it doesn't mean it's not frustrating or nerve wracking.

"In time, the anchor ropes or whatever will rot or deteriorate and the storms will pick them up and carry them and dispose of them in places that are hazardous to boaters and navigators," Johnson said.

That's what happened to one boat. It washed onto Angie Cloutier's backyard right after Hurricane Idalia. The boat slammed into her seawall and dock, destroying it. Now, it's off of the wall, but partially blocking the canal.

"Our channel in there is about 45 feet wide," Johnson said. "We've probably lost 10 feet."

Fox 4 senior reporter Kaitlin Knapp tracked down the boat's owner in Massachusetts. He said he sold the boat before the storm and it's no longer his responsibility.

While Johnson is able to get around it, there are others that are a little harder to navigate.

"The vessel ended up sinking and is partially blocking one of our channels," Johnson said.

He says a few canals down, there is a sunken boat. The boat has been there for about two years, according to Johnson.

"Now the boat is sitting right off that rock corner. It's on the bottom," he said.

While taking Fox 4 out to see it, Johnson accidentally ran over it. Without seeing it on a sonar, there is no way to tell there's a boat on the bottom of the canal floor.

"That's how you tear the bottom of your boat off," Johnson said.

Those are just two of thousands of derelict vessels in Florida, frustrating people like Johnson and Cloutier.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is in charge of removing them, but Johnson says it's taking too long.

"It's the process that FWC has set up to remove these vessels that is causing the whole problem," he explained.

Fox 4 asked FWC about the boat blocking the canal, and another one you will see off the Edison bridge.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was notified of two potentially derelict vessels in North Fort Myers, Lee County. Both of the vessels, one behind a private residence and the other near the 41 bridge at the Caloosahatchee River, have been investigated by FWC officers. The vessel behind the private residence is currently under contract with a removal company and will be removed according to its contract. The vessel near the 41 bridge is currently in the bidding process. We make every effort to work with the vessel owners to remove the vessel from state waters themselves to minimize the cost to taxpayers. When owners do not remove the vessels themselves, FWC works with licensed contractors to perform removal, destruction and equipment and cannot confirm or guarantee a removal timeline.

Derelict vessels are a priority for the FWC. The Division of Law Enforcement’s Boating and Waterways Section is spearheading a multi-year effort to dramatically reduce the backlog of derelict vessels currently on the waters of the state. Unfortunately, derelict vessels continue to be documented by law enforcement on an ongoing basis.

We also reached out to Rep. Spencer Roach, who represents that district. His office said he was not available for an interview at this time.

"it's not just a local problem, it's a statewide problem," Johnson said.

It's a problem they're going to have to wait for FWC to fix.

"Everybody wants them [derelict vessels] out," Johnson said.