Agency's stimulus bid denied

Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009 1:47 PM
Last updated 2:44 PM
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ATLANTA — The state Department of Natural Resources made an unsuccessful bid for millions in federal stimulus money to remove shipwrecks in Georgia's coastal waters.

The department wanted $7.2 million to remove 111 sunken or abandoned vessels off Savannah and Chatham County. Charles "Buck" Bennett of the department's Coastal Resources Division said the removals would have created about 253 jobs.

The boats are more than just ugly, Bennett said. Their rotting wood and leaking fuel pollute waters, and they can be a safety hazard for boaters and docks as pieces break off, he said.

"People invest a lot of money into their docks and into their boats, and people routinely (abandon) their vessels because they think they can," Bennett told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "You cannot leave your vehicle on I-95 and walk away from it. It would cause a pileup."

Since DNR submitted the bid in March, the number of wrecked boats has risen to 129.

The problem doesn't have a cheap fix. A recent barge removal on the Ogeechee River cost $120,000 because it had to be chopped up and taken out in pieces. Hauling a fishing vessel out costs about $40,000. Without the stimulus money, that financial burden falls on state and local agencies.

It's nearly impossible to force the boat owners to pay because any identifying information is generally stripped from the abandoned watercraft.

State Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, proposed legislation in 2007 that would hold owners of abandoned vessels responsible. It would have kept anyone who refused to pay to dispose of their boat from getting another boat or vehicle license. The bill passed the Senate but failed in the House.

Jill Andrews, grant coordinator for DNR's Coastal Resources Division, said she doesn't know whether the state will try again to get stimulus funds designated for coastal restoration and the removal of marine debris, which are managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The federal agency received 814 requests for funding totaling $3 billion.

"It was a very competitive grant program," Andrews said. "There were a lot more requests than funding was available."


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