Boat abandoned in bay finally getting removed 1 year later at taxpayers’ expense

A boat illegally dumped in Barnegat Bay will finally be hauled away, local officials confirmed to NJ Advance Media on Monday.

The boat was abandoned nearly a year ago, although most of the details on how that took place remain a mystery. It sat neglected off of John C. Bartlett, Jr. County Park in Bayville, Berkeley Township for some months before breaking loose — a recent storm sending it adrift toward the south side of the bay toward land in May.

The owner of the boat was identified and charged with abandonment, pollution of tidal waters, and failure to number — penalties made possible under the Abandoned Vessel Disposition Law passed in 2011.

A spokesman with the New Jersey State Police said Monday that there were no updates in the case and the owner remains at large.

Thus, the boat in Berkeley Township will follow the same fate that many others do throughout New Jersey when abandoned. Dumped. Unaddressed. And finally removed at a cost to taxpayers. It’s often what happens when owners can’t be found, waterway advocates told NJ Advance Media in a special report published earlier this year on the issue.

Ocean County’s Department of Parks and Recreation on May 13 granted permission to the Berkeley Township Department of Public Works to use John C. Bartlett, Jr. County Park’s parking lot on the south side of Brennan Concourse to demolish and discard the boat.

The township will pay an estimated $3,500 for the removal and plans to work with the Berkeley Township Underwater Search and Rescue Squad 86 to carry out the process, John Camera, Berkeley Township administrator, said. The rescue squad has monitored the boat for about a year, awaiting the green light to carry out the removal and recycle parts of the boat.

Camera said the removal is being done as the boat is considered a public burden that needs to be addressed immediately. It also follows a letter provided by the New Jersey State Police deeming the boat a navigational hazard, he said.

“The County has agreed to use their personnel and equipment to demolish the boat and load it into a Berkeley Township vehicle(s). Berkeley Township will then dispose of the debris from the boat at the Ocean County landfill,” Camera said in a statement, noting that grant funds may be available to assist in covering the cost. “The cost to Berkeley Township will be: fuel for the (search and rescue) vehicle, the tipping fees at the landfill and our personnel, equipment and fuel costs to transport the debris. Due to the ‘team effort’ we anticipate the cost to Berkeley Township will be approximately $3,500.”

Gregory Elliot, the chief of the Berkeley Township Underwater Search and Rescue Squad 86, previously said the boat was an eyesore, potentially harmful for marine life and an issue for other boats traveling in the bay. He said he was also concerned it could leak fuel if it brushed up on land.

“Once it gets on land, it can become a public safety issue, besides what risks it poses to county or private property. As the summer gets here, they’ll be more people around it and potential for somebody to get hurt,” Elliot said in May. He did not immediately respond for comment Monday.

Unlike some other states, New Jersey does not have dedicated funds for removals or a program to reimburse towns which often end up shouldering the costs. The lack of funding is also what leads to towns not taking any action, local officials have said.

Under a new bill introduced by Sen. Michael Testa on May 26, Berkeley Township and other New Jersey municipalities could qualify for reimbursement for abandoned boat removals. Testa, a Republican who represents Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic counties, said earlier this year that NJ Advance Media’s special report was “a push” to take action on the statewide issue.

Testa’s bill would create a working group to examine the costly issue of abandoned boats and dedicate $25 million in state funds to carry out removals.

A motor yacht broke loose after it was abandoned and anchored in Barnegat Bay off of John C. Bartlett, Jr. County Park in Bayville, Berkeley Township for nearly a year. On June 6, 2022, Berkeley Township said the boat will soon be hauled away. Courtesy of Gregory Elliot.

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Steven Rodas may be reached at srodas@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @stevenrodasnj.