More than a quarter million dollars in RESTORE Act money has been earmarked to remove 13 derelict vessels from Franklin County waters.

Under Florida law, to be derelict means a vessel, “that is left, stored, or abandoned in a wrecked, junked, or substantially dismantled condition upon any public waters of this state; at a port in this state without the consent of the agency having jurisdiction thereof or a vessel docked, grounded, or beached upon the property of another without the consent of the owner.”

Vessels must be declared derelict by law enforcement and added to the state Derelict Vessel Database to be eligible for the derelict removal program.

When the availability of $1.2 million in grant money to remove derelicts was announced earlier this year, Franklin County submitted a list of 15 boats already designated as derelicts by the Florida Fish and Wildlife conservation commission (FWC) along with four vessels not included on the derelict vessel database.

Of the original 19 listed, two have since been moved by unknown persons: FL2541G located at Scipio Creek Marina and FL9623F located at Seafood Landing Park (Lombardi’s) near Two-Mile.

RESTORE will provide a total of $256,562 and the county must provide 25 percent matching funds, $64,141. The county’s match will come from the Florida Boating Improvement Fund which provides funding through competitive grants for boating access projects and other boating-related activities.

The vessels currently slated for removal include three 40-foot vessels at Seafood Landing Park: The Captain Bud and two unidentified boats located on the north side of Two-Mile Channel.

Four vessels will be removed from the area of Scipio Creek Boat Basin: the 34-foot ZZ Top; a 40-foot barge with a mounted crane located on the east side of Scipio Creek; 66-foot FLO735NU and 40-foot Jem both located northwest of the boat basin.

The 71-foot Treasure 1 will be removed from East Pass near Dog Island. The 22-foot FL8416EL will be removed from the end of Dove Lane in the Plantation on St. George Island. A 71-foot vessel of unknown origin will be removed from the south bank of the Jackson River. The 58-foot Eureka will be removed from the East River near Gardner’s Landing.

The most costly removals are anticipated to be an unknown 50-foot vessel in Owl Creek above Wright’s Landing with an estimated price tag of $43,774; followed a metal-hulled fishing boat visible from the bay shore of St. George Island and the Patton Bridge which will cost about $31,000 to remove.

County Planner Mark Curenton said he believes the vessels will be removed in the near future.

Hondo Enterprises of Defuniak Springs provided the estimates for the cost of removal and will perform the work once funding is confirmed. Payment will be made to Hondo by the county for each vessel once the work on that vessel is completed.

For the county to receive reimbursement, proof of the work must be provided to the FWC in the form of photographic images of removal and destruction entered into derelict vessel database, sworn statements of destruction by investigating officers, and completion of all database entries as required to include removal cost entry and copies of all invoices for removal and disposal.

The four vessels not listed in the FWC database were deemed ineligible for the program. Three are located in Carrabelle: a 30-foot vessel sunk against the downstream side of the Tillie Miller Bridge; the 60-foot Miss Carrabelle sunk at 305 Marine Street and the 68-foot Anthony Diane sunk on top of the Miss Carrabelle.

The fourth ineligible vessel is a 20-foot boat located in the marsh on the north side of Two-Mile Channel west of Apalachicola.

Florida has no salvage laws giving the finder of an abandoned vessel rights of ownership. A person who finds an abandoned vessel and who wants to make claim to it must make a legal application for title transfer into his name.

It is a crime in the state of Florida to take an abandoned vessel without first getting title to it. Doing so is considered theft and could result in fines or jail time.

To claim an abandoned vessel, the finder must report it to a law enforcement agency which will collect a fee to conduct an investigation under Section 705.103, Florida Statutes, and determine the owner of the vessel. If the vessel is not claimed in the process of the investigation, the law enforcement agency may transfer it to the finder with a bill of sale and evidence of the investigation. The finder would then make application to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) to have the title put into his name.

A new state law promises to make it easier for city and county authorities as well as FWC to intervene before a vessel becomes derelict. It’s intended to save taxpayers money, eliminate navigation hazards and reduce the potential for environmental damage caused by leaking fuel, oil or even sewage from the vessel’s waste tank.

Enacted on July 1, the measure allows law enforcement officers to issue non-criminal citations to owners who allow their boats to deteriorate to the point of being “at-risk” of becoming derelict. Applying to recreational as well as commercial vessels, the law provides for civil fines to be imposed on the owners of at-risk vessels.

The new law defines an at-risk vessel as one deemed on the brink of becoming derelict. It lists multiple factors, including a vessel that is taking on or has taken on water without an effective means to get the water out of it. The category also includes vessels that are left or stored aground unattended in a condition preventing them from getting underway, are listing due to water intrusion or are sunk or partially sunk.