Friday, July 6, 2012

Houseboat abandoned at India Basin

Nearly three months ago, India Basin neighbors awoke to find a ramshackle houseboat anchored just off shore. It's still there.

Since the vessel arrived, the neighborhood idea mill has taken humorous turns. Sell it to raise money for charity? Make it part of July 4th fireworks? Enter it in the U.S. Cup coming to SF next month?

Waterfront advocates, in more serious moments, want whoever is responsible for the boat to make it disappear. That request was soon mired in bureaucracy.

Andrea Bruss, an aide to Supervisor Malia Cohen, responded that her office had been in contact with a thicket of entities that share jurisdiction over the problem including the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Coast Guard, SF Police Department, Recreation and Parks Department, the Port of SF, and the owner of the vessel. Cohen's office estimates removal and disposal costs at $20,000.

A Port investigation into concerns the boat is sinking found that the owner had set anchors improperly which could eventually result in "permanent grounding."

"The owner has been informed that the City believes he is attempting to cause intentional environmental damage by sinking his vessel." - Andrea Bruss

Below, Michael Hamman, India Basin Neighborhood Coalition leader and a resident with a prime view of the vessel, shares insight into the boat's true value.

"The neighbors out here all wonder if this situation would be allowed to exist in the Marina." - Michael Hamman

Curiosity-seekers peer into a lower window as the American flag flaps above.  But for all the activity, this houseboat at India Basin is very much empty.
Treasure or junk?

A mistake common among non boaters is that these things [abandoned boats] have some salvage or intrinsic value. The truth is that they are a huge liability.

Michael Hamman

All up and down the Delta from Redding to San Jose every marina has at least a dozen such abandoned boats that they are trying to get rid of. Often they will actually pay you to take it away.

This is because there is no free parking on the water. There is no on street parking, garage or yard you can park in. Everyone must pay, and when they can't they abandon the boat.

Yes, nice boats, big boats, all kinds of boats are literally free.

And herein lies the problem, for there is a certain class of dreamer that just knows he or she can transform this free boat into a dream house or a world cruiser and live the good life.

Except they can't. There is nowhere to put it.

They get evicted from one place after another, drifting down the river until the dream dies, or more likely the boat sinks. All boats sink eventually, and free boats with no maintenance sink sooner than others.

It is rare they get down this far but this one did and now we are stuck with it. There will be more, for the economic depression is causing more and more boat owners to abandon ship and they will end up somewhere and some will end up here.

Unlike cars which are made of metal that has some scrap value, boats are made of plastic, or treated wood that is toxic and expensive to dispose of. Even if you tow a boat to a disposal yard where they are equipped to dismantle it, the cost is substantial. But once a boat sinks and becomes stuck in the mud the cost goes through the roof.

It is impossible to pull a boat like this out of the mud because if you pull on it hard enough to dislodge it you will pull it apart. It most likely will be dismantled in place. And because it is in the water it must be surrounded with protection, and the work becomes much more difficult than if it were on land.

I spoke with the Army Corp and they said [removing] a behemoth like this could go to six figures.

Now you understand why no agency wants to deal with this. My guess is it will sit there a good long time until some poor agency gets so much political pressure that they will take the hit and pay to do it.

Of course the dreamer who brought it here is destitute and has no resources to deal with even a portion of this. If he can't afford the rent for a berth, how on earth is he going to come up with tens of thousands to dispose of it?

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