One by one, hundreds of boats shipwrecked by Hurricane Irma are being salvaged from the bottom of lakes and waterways across the state.
That is welcome news to people like Brent Spechler, a Hollywood resident whose lakeside dock was destroyed when a runaway boat slammed into it during the storm.
“I’m grateful that it’s getting done,” Spechler said. “I’m very concerned about the next storm. Irma was a Category 1 storm at best. If it’s a Cat 5, the boats could end up in people’s living rooms.”
The storm that swept through South Florida on Sept. 10 upended more than 1,000 vessels, leaving a massive job for salvage crews that may end up costing taxpayers $20 million based on early estimates, a U.S. Coast Guard official said.
As of Monday, 1,492 boats have been salvaged by both government agencies and vessel owners:
— 1,101 from the Florida Keys.
— 69 from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
— 265 from St. Petersburg area.
— 57 from the Jacksonville region.
Responders are prioritizing vessels based on which pose the biggest environmental threat.
“Vessels that are actively leaking are our top priority,” Coast Guard Cmdr. JoAnne Hanson said.
The cost so far: $12.5 million, with FEMA paying 75 percent of the tab and the state picking up the rest, said Elizabeth Bordelon, petty officer with the Coast Guard.
The job is far from over — and Bordelon said officials are not quite sure when it will be.
On Monday, three algae-covered boats sat on a barge in Hollywood’s North Lake, waiting to be carted away to staging area where they can be reclaimed.
In South Florida, damaged vessels are being stored at two locations: Watson Island Marina and the Seminole Boat Ramp.
In all, nine boats sunk to the bottom of North Lake during the storm, said Miranda Grossman, spokeswoman for the Hollywood Police Department. All but one were salvaged, a police official said.
Homeowners in Hollywood’s North Lake neighborhood say they’re stuck with costly repairs because careless owners didn’t get their boats out of the way of the storm.
Spechler says it will cost $25,000 to repair his dock — a cost not covered by his insurance policy.
Dr. Michael Remaly, who lives down the street, says his dock was also damaged during the storm. His homeowners policy will cover the cost to repair his dock, but he will have to pay a $9,000 deductible.
Both men say there should be a law requiring boat owners to take their vessels to safe harbor before a hurricane.
And right now, there is none.
“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does encourage boat owners to secure their vessels before a storm, but there is no statutory requirement to do so,” said Rob Klepper, a spokesman with the agency.
Remaly said he thinks there should be a stricter law.
“These people are uninsured and they just leave their boats on the water with a hurricane on the way,” he said. “The way state law is now, they can just anchor their boat and leave it here, with no hurricane plan. I just don’t think it’s right.”
Before Hurricane Irma hit, Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy fielded dozens of calls from homeowners frantic with worry about the 10 boats that had been left anchored in North Lake. And there was not a thing he could do.
Levy said he’d like to see the state give local authorities the right to usher at-risk vessels and abandoned boats to safe harbor where they can do the least amount of damage.
That sentiment is echoed by State Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura.
“To say there ought to be a law, well yes, this is a huge problem,” Geller said. “A lot of people just abandoned those vessels when the hurricane came. There should be a process where if the owner refuses to take steps to protect their vessel, the city should be able to go out there and move it.”
Owners whose boats have been destroyed or who can’t afford repairs can release ownership of their vessel through a waiver provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
To turn over rights to your boat, call the Vessel Removal Hotline at 305-985-3744.
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