Riverkeeper seeks to clear old wrecks from Savannah River

Old wrecks clutter river

Friday, June 1, 2012 9:16 PM
Last updated Saturday, June 2, 2012 1:53 AM
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The moldering hulk lies in a few feet of water off the end of a dock on the Georgia side of the Savannah River.

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Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus sails past an abandoned houseboat along the river. Bonitatibus is working on a proposal for Augusta city officials to pull boats and other debris out of the Savannah River.   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus sails past an abandoned houseboat along the river. Bonitatibus is working on a proposal for Augusta city officials to pull boats and other debris out of the Savannah River.

Abandoned by its owner and unwanted by anyone else, the 45-foot-houseboat is slowly falling apart while officials look for someone to take responsibility.

Although it rests firmly on the river bottom, officials say the vessel is still adrift in a bureaucratic eddy, floating between the boundaries of various authorities that control local waterways.

Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah riverkeeper, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won’t touch it because it isn’t in the river channel, the Coast Guard won’t do anything about it because it isn’t leaking fuel or oil, and it isn’t on Augusta city property because it sits below the ordinary high-water mark.

“There’s only one agency that has the clear authority to remove it,” Bonitatibus said, referring to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “But that program was defunded, so there’s no money to do it.”

The wreck is part a larger issue of abandoned boats and other large debris that litter the river’s bottom and shore between Augusta and Savannnah. Bonitatibus has catalogued at least 27 abandoned wrecks in that stretch of the river, ranging from bass boats to barges to shrimping vessels.

She is working on a proposal that she will present to the Augusta Commission to help clean up the river around Augusta, which will include hauling the old houseboat downriver for demolition.

That could cost between $5,000 and $10,000, she said.

“The bottom line is this (is) an expensive issue, and who’s going to pay for it?” she said.

One obvious person would be the owner, Bonitatibus said. Local and state authorities could still hold that person responsible, if they knew just who that was and where to find him.

Who owns the houseboat and how it arrived at its resting place is about as murky as the water it lies in, however.

For many years, the boat was occupied by Garcha Singh, who lived on it at the Augusta Riverwalk Marina, said Johnny Christian, the marina’s manager.

“We inherited Mr. Singh when we took over the marina,” Christian said.

Christian described Singh as a difficult man who was renting a slip for his houseboat at the marina. The problem was that he wasn’t paying his rent, Christian said.

The marina took Singh to court twice over unpaid rent in 2005 and 2006. In the last case, Singh entered a consent order to pay $4,500 in back rent and to stay current with his $200 monthly payments, plus utilities.

Christian said Singh didn’t follow through with that order and ultimately agreed to move his boat. The houseboat ended up a few hundred yards downstream, tied to the public dock at the Riverfront Marina.

“We were happy to see him go,” Christian said.

Bonitatibus said the boat remained there for the next couple of years, until Singh was asked to move it for the Augusta Southern Nationals speedboat races. It was taken downstream for a while but ended up back at the public dock until July 2010, when the boats races required it to be moved again, Christian said.

No one is sure what exactly happened next, but somehow the boat was towed upriver to the dock behind a house in the Waters Edge neighborhood.

It was abandoned there, and that is where it sank, Bonitatibus said.

The situation is more common than she would like. Again and again, she has seen old boats abandoned on the river when the owners could no longer afford to keep them up. Those boats end up sinking and creating dangers for other boaters, she said.

W.D. Dixon, who owns the dock where the houseboat sits, says the vessel isn’t his and he doesn’t know how it got there.

“Somebody just brought up there and left it,” said Dixon, who said he had never spoken with Singh about the boat. “I don’t know the guy, and I’ve never seen the guy.”

The man who towed the boat to Dixon’s dock, Frank Ransom, said it was his understanding that Dixon agreed to have the boat parked there. Ransom said a woman he knows was paid by Singh to move the boat there.

“I saw him give her money on the dock, and she gave me $600 to tow it,” he said. “After we docked the boat, she yelled at a fellow up at the house.”

Dixon insisted that he never agreed to allow anyone to dock the boat at his house.

“I never talked with anybody,” he said.

Although he said he would like to see it go, Dixon hasn’t been interested in spending his own money to have it removed. Bonitatibus said Dixon has offered to help pay for at least part of the costs in the past year, but backed out when she was close to making arrangements.

“Why would I go spend $10,000 to move a boat that’s not mine, and then get sued over it afterward?” Dixon said.

Rob Sherman, of Augusta Licensing and Inspection department, said if it isn’t resolved soon, the city might have to go after Dixon, because he hasn’t done anything in two years to get rid of it, even when it was still floating.

Dixon said he didn’t want to set the boat adrift, because then it would just become a hazard to navigation.

“I’d love to see it moved,” he said. “But I’d rather look at it than have it maybe hurt somebody down the river.”

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raul
4627
Points
raul 06/02/12 - 12:59 am
4
0
And what happened to Singh?

And what happened to Singh? Sounds like he still owns the boat whether he abandoned it or not.

justputtin
1384
Points
justputtin 06/02/12 - 06:45 am
4
0
Come on!

Two responsible parties. First, the owner of the boat and where it is docked. The dock owner should go after Singh if his story is true. Keep up the good work Riverkeepers! Unbelievable that this goes unpunished. I could get cited for throwing a bottle in the river but this goes unpunished?

agustinian
689
Points
agustinian 06/02/12 - 07:25 am
5
0
Crane It

Get a crane from the TEE center and lift it onto a truck and take it to the junk yard.

Or, burn it in place.

Jane18
12332
Points
Jane18 06/02/12 - 08:49 am
2
0
Not surprized!

It always comes down to $$$$$ with the government, and guess whose money? A couple of individuals involved, and several agencies, and yet they cannot get together and get that piece of garbage houseboat out of the river. Boy-oh-boy, I am always amazed at the excuses for not getting something done...................I think augustinian has two very good ideas................

boodroe
1910
Points
boodroe 06/02/12 - 08:58 am
3
0
Crane it

Where do you suggest you place the crane to lift the boat outtah the water? Ever been in Water's Edge not a lot of room to place a massive crane that would be needed to lift a houseboat nice suggestion but impractical considering it's locale

tbonitatibus
4
Points
tbonitatibus 06/02/12 - 09:02 am
2
1
Wish We Could!

Unfortunately as time has dragged on the boat has gotten worse. There was a time where it could have been floated and pulled out by a crane, problem is it is too decayed at this point. it is going to have to be taken apart piece by piece. I agree wholeheartedly, both "owners" should be held responsible, and maybe even the marina that kicked the boat out. This isn't the first and won't be the last... The Corps used to allow people to burn boats, can't do it anymore, but I couldn't agree more, removing the nasty stuff and burning it wouldn't be an awful idea.

Swampman
46
Points
Swampman 06/02/12 - 10:54 am
1
0
It is past the point of salvage.

Every coastal river in Georgia has derelict boats and this jurisdictional hand off is going on everywhere. Even if the Riverkeeper does successfully sue the owner, what do they get? A judgment. Good luck with that. If we are not willing to demand the restoration of DNR's funding for derelict removal, then we need to push the issue with Corps of Engineers. They are the agency tasked with preventing navigational hazards and derelicts inevitably break up and create hazards. Furthermore, they certainly have the equipment necessary to pull the derelicts from the water. They could pull the wrecks and seek restitution from the owners.

Dixieman
14426
Points
Dixieman 06/02/12 - 11:03 am
4
5
Blatantly partisan

When is the AC going to stop just running Riverkeepers' press releases verbatim without doing any checking, solicitation of opposing views or real REPORTING?? These people are left-wing JOBKILLERS with a socialist agenda who spend a lot of money on litigation designed to prevent sensible commercial development and stop job creation. The AC just plasters their point of view across the front page. What's wrong here??

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 06/02/12 - 11:26 am
5
1
yep. lots of jobs in the

yep. lots of jobs in the ruined boats leaking oil into the river business....

i really don't understand your point of view dixieman.
1) this wasn't a press release, an AC reporter and photographer went to the scene, gathered pertinent information
2) opposing views. ok. maybe you can tell us why the wrecks should stay in the river. perhaps they are excellent habitats for the endangered mosquito population.
3) not everyone wants "sensible commercial development" along every mile of riverfront. I don't know of any lawsuit thats prevented waterfront development in the Augusta area. could you point me the way? consider it a check and balance on unsustainable development. lest more of america end up full of empty shopping centers abandoned by commerce in favor of new shopping centers just a few miles up the road.

Jake
32345
Points
Jake 06/02/12 - 12:15 pm
4
0
Natural resource

The Savannah River is a lovely natural resource that needs to be protected and preserved, not exploited beyond reason.
Of course it takes $$$ to protect and preserve and I guess the big question is who is going to pay for it?

Bing0
14
Points
Bing0 06/02/12 - 12:57 pm
6
0
The fact that nothing was

The fact that nothing was done about this while it was floating is, in my opinion, hugely significant. Someone dropped the ball somewhere. I have no idea or experience in pricing the difference in cost for removal of the wreck now and the cost for removal when it was still floating, but I imagine it is humongous. Too bad they can't find a deep hole somewhere and just sink it. Do we not have a barge parked somewhere that could be used in the removal process?

Bing0
14
Points
Bing0 06/02/12 - 12:59 pm
3
0
I don't know how I got a double post...

I don't know how I got a double post. I only clicked once. Please remove this if possible.

Iwannakno
1533
Points
Iwannakno 06/02/12 - 01:49 pm
0
0
Stupidity
Unpublished

I think its stupid to go after Dixon. He has no fault in this. Thats just inviting people to dump their garbage on someone elses property then expect them to pay to clean it up. I would get a lawyer Mr. Dixon...the city will leave you alone then.

x58dav8r
112
Points
x58dav8r 06/02/12 - 02:31 pm
6
0
Here's what it'll take

Post a notice in the local paper that the houseboat is abandoned and will be dismantled in 7 days. On the eighth day, grab a wrecking bar or two, a metal cutter, a couple of hammers and go to work. Pull off everything that might be salvagable, then take the damned thing apart and tow what can't be burned to the dump and burn the rest. Who pays for it? How about the people who are interested in beautifying their property and the river? All it takes is real want to and some elbow grease.

Dixieman
14426
Points
Dixieman 06/02/12 - 05:22 pm
2
4
Memo to AC re Journalism 101

How about a little investigative reporting?
1. Ask this organization how many lawsuits or administrative proceedings it has been involved in during the last 5 years. What percentage of their activities involve litigation or administrative proceedings (i.e., trying to deny, obstruct or delay Plant Vogtle its permit for new power plants)
2. Ask who the opposing parties were.
3. Ask what the lawsuit was about - money damages? Halting commercial activity along the river?
4. Ask how many jobs would be affected if they won all the lawsuits.
5. Ask how much of their dues received here are funneled on to the national Riverkeeper Alliance, a radical group.
6. Ask about their affiliation with the radical environmental law "clinic" at Emory.
This is a watermelon (green on the outside, red on the inside) front organization with an anti-free enterprise agenda. The AC just reprints what they say and NEVER does any journalism 101 digging, like investigating the questions above.

harley_52
23004
Points
harley_52 06/02/12 - 06:04 pm
3
2
"This is a watermelon (green

"This is a watermelon (green on the outside, red on the inside) front organization with an anti-free enterprise agenda."

Aren't they all? Or mostly anyway.

Boudreaux
98
Points
Boudreaux 06/02/12 - 07:44 pm
3
0
I understand all points of

I understand all points of view, I'm far from a greenie and don't put much in what they have to say, however, I do love our waterways and hate to see them trashed up. Someone has to do something or else it will only get worse, it's already on the top of the list as one of the nations dirtiest waterways. What are we to do? Someone has to stand up.

KSL
126834
Points
KSL 06/02/12 - 09:14 pm
2
1
Dixieman is right about the

Dixieman is right about the riverkeeper organization in general. They have been known to cause needless delays in school constrction in GA.

Dixieman
14426
Points
Dixieman 06/02/12 - 10:08 pm
2
2
They love it

when the AC shows the pictures of happy citizens in their yellow slickers and LL Bean wading boots out there cleaning up the trash on the riverbank. After all, who could object to that? It's like motherhood and apple pie. And the AC has done cutesy puff piece stories about Ms. Bonantibus staying out on a raft in the middle of the river, and her sewage-sniffing dog, and now the sunken boats, but NEVER said ANYTHING about their real agenda of litigation, delay, job destruction and prevention, and other radical environmental acts. Still waiting for some enterprising reporter to just ferret out the answers to the very basic questions I posed above.

carcraft
25262
Points
carcraft 06/02/12 - 10:11 pm
1
0
This whole thing is a mess.

This whole thing is a mess. I am not sure of statute of limatations on the dock owner sueing Singh. I. think Singh may have adverse possition of the dock space. Removing the boat amounts to removing hazerdous waste with contaminated oil and gas and mold mildew etc. It requires special techniques etc. I think Singh should be charged with pollution and told to clean up the environment or go to jail!

Willow Bailey
20580
Points
Willow Bailey 06/03/12 - 10:20 am
1
1
I find it questionable that

I find it questionable that Singh would not pay his Marina bill, but shelled put 600 dollars to have the boat removed and then abandon it. Why not abandon it where it sat? If I were investigating this, my eyes would be interested in the Marina owner and the boat hauler who should have never delivered that wreck to a private dock without permission from the property owner. There were only two people who benefited from this move.

Little Lamb
45364
Points
Little Lamb 06/04/12 - 08:13 am
1
0
Broke?

Savannah Riverkeeper said:

“There’s only one agency that has the clear authority to remove it,” Bonitatibus said, referring to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “But that program was defunded, so there’s no money to do it.”

Let's see, the Ga. DNR claims ownership of "waters of the state," but says it does not have money in the bank to clean up waste that others dump on its property (i.e., the waters). I wonder how far that excuse goes to a private property owner who has been dumped on? My guess is that DNR would throw the book at him.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

unbiased_propaganda
165
Points
unbiased_propaganda 06/08/12 - 03:57 pm
0
0
Dixieman - Do you have a life

Dixieman -

Do you have a life other than trying to bring down a local environmental group working to keep the river clean?

I'm sure they utilize a portion of their budget on litigation - but if they didn't pay attention to any of the illegal construction and practices that go on everyday - where do you think our drinking water would come from in the span of a few years?

All you talk about is how awful the riverkeeper is and how they are out to ruin jobs, etc, etc...

What exactly are YOU doing to improve society? Other than complaining? PLEASE GET A LIFE.

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