The nonprofit will be a one-stop-shop for identifying, funding, and facilitating resources for clearing abandoned and derelict vessels from local waters
Abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) pose hazards to navigation and safety and are a serious problem across the country. These everlasting eyesores also weigh on responsible boaters, who for years have felt powerless to make the neglected wrecks just go away. And then there are the damaging effects they have on our sensitive waters, wildlife, and marine ecosystems.
Boaters with such dangers in their home waters, specifically in U.S. coastal areas and the Great Lakes, now have new reason for hope. The BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water was recently awarded a four-year, $10 million federal grant through NOAA’s Marine Debris Removal Program. The grant is funded by the new bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was designed to rebuild our roads, bridges, rail, and ports, bring access to high-speed internet to remote regions, and improve access to clean drinking water, among other long-overdue projects. The grant is also part of NOAA’s larger mission to make a measurable change in freeing our global ocean and coasts from the impacts of marine debris.
Making NOAA’S directive a reality will require a massive effort by a coalition of like-minded groups over a multi-step, multi-year process – all coordinated by the BoatU.S. Foundation. Alanna Keating, our Foundation’s director of outreach, says the Foundation is uniquely positioned for taking on this project due to its 30-year history with its Grassroots Grants program and involvement with ADV removals through NOAA’s Marine Debris Removal Program.
“No other organization has our connections and capability,” Keating says, noting four decades of work with some 700 boating organizations, marinas, state agencies, nonprofits, and for-profit businesses.
The Foundation received nearly 70 letters of support from partners as part of the proposal.
“We’ve been working with these partners for years,” continues Keating. “Now it’s official and backed by funding. We’re getting the opportunity to do what we’ve always been doing but on a bigger scale.”
A big job ahead
The first step to mitigating the issue is understanding the scope of the problem because the number of ADVs in the United States remains unknown. Currently, no all-encompassing database with ADV locations exists.
“Without a central database, federal, state, and local agencies struggle to coordinate efforts and often duplicate work in identifying abandoned vessels and the needs to address them,” says Keating.
Creating a user-friendly ADV database will enhance coordination efforts and more clearly define the environmental benefits of these projects. In addition, it will give the public, industry, and states the opportunity to see a holistic view of the ADV issue to be able to strategically tackle these problems.
Once built, the plan is for partner organizations, government agencies, and the public to be able to submit ADV locations to the database. Keating says that creating and maintaining this record of ADVs will be both an asset and legacy of this project. The database will serve as an historical record of ADV locations and removal efforts that can be used as a tool for future removal and prevention projects.
Funding for removals
Concurrent to developing a central ADV database, the Foundation, in partnership with NOAA, is developing an application process for grant requests for ADV removals. The Foundation’s objective is to provide a streamlined, efficient, and timely process for both public and private organizations to access ADV-removal funds.
“We anticipate opening applications to anyone with the experience and partnerships to complete the removal projects,” says Keating.
Costs for removing ADVs vary greatly due to many factors including the type and size of boat, location, length of exposure, and more. Typical removals can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars into the hundreds of thousands. The number of removals to be funded during the grant period will depend on the number of applications received.
In addition to the letter of intent and application, the Foundation is developing grant guidelines and evaluation criteria. All submissions will be reviewed by a grant committee of industry experts in removal and outreach.
While applications will be reviewed in a timely manner, projects will not start until all environmental compliance and permitting is completed. Keating notes that there is currently no federal funding available for inland ADV removals but hopes the Foundation’s work will eventually expand to interior lakes and rivers.
Once an application for removal has been approved and funding provided, the hard work of removing the ADV begins. The Foundation will work with grantees from start to finish for both removal and prevention/outreach efforts.
While boat removal logistics vary greatly from area to area, Keating says, “We need to thoroughly document these logistics and improve the process, where possible, to shorten the time and, even more importantly, prevent new ADV removals from being needed.” This will help the Foundation identify ways to build efficiencies, identify barriers to proper disposal, and track how the Foundation’s partnerships and experience can help mitigate ADVs during the grant period and beyond.
“ADV removal is a challenge, which is why we’re looking at this grant opportunity as a way to not only remove vessels across the country, but to build a network that responds to ADVs, makes removal easier, and ultimately, helps prevent them from happening in the first place.”
What’s an ADV?
Abandoned and derelict vessels are boats that pose a threat to the environment. But like a lot of things, there’s no one definition of what makes something an ADV. In general, the vessels’ owners are either unidentifiable or unable to address the issue. However, the term has different meanings in different localities. To be considered an ADV, the vessel must meet the definition of whomever has jurisdiction over the waterway where it’s located. — S.W.
While ADV removal is a necessary step in the process, Keating says the key to ensuring the long-term effect of the grant program is identifying and removing barriers that prevent people from responsibly disposing of vessels that have reached their end of life. Documenting the removals, challenges, and lessons learned will allow the Foundation and others to better understand and manage the underlying causes of ADVs, for example, lack of affordable housing, barriers to disposal, and cultural or historical reasons.
“This should help us figure out what we can do to create change in areas where it’s an epidemic,” says Keating. “Is it a permitting issue? A liability issue? A socioeconomic issue? What can we learn to be able to change the circumstances to make a different outcome accessible?”
A portion of the grant monies will be used to educate boaters, the boating industry, lawmakers, and the public about the environmental and safety impacts of large-scale marine debris, challenges with removal, and the collective efforts of NOAA and its partners to address these issues.
“We will use various outreach efforts, including video and press events, on local, state, and national levels to bring awareness to this important issue, work to change behaviors around it, and celebrate the success of our subgrantees’ projects,” she says.
BoatU.S. Foundation received the official grant notification at the end of August 2023, so, at press time, program managers were in the beginning stages of building out the framework. Keating says she expects that grant applications and guidelines will be available in early 2024, and the ADV database reporting system is anticipated to be online by the middle to latter part of next year. The Foundation will release more details as they become available on its website (BoatUS.org/ADVGrant) as well as through press releases and on social platforms.