After state does nothing about abandoned tugboat for years, Juneau city officials finally take over

A WWII-era tugboat that was abandoned in Gastineau Channel in Juneau for years is finally tied up at the dock. It drifted to a spot in the channel that is technically state waters in May 2018, where it remained until January of this year. Since it was secured in place, and not considered a navigational hazard, the state did nothing about it, according to City and Bureau of Juneau (CBJ) Harbormaster David Borg.

Extremely high winds and tides the weekend of January 11 caused the anchor to break lose, and the Lumberman started drifting, Borg said. Since it then became a ‘danger to navigation’ as it drifted from state to CBJ lands, the U.S. Coast Guard stepped in and towed the tugboat to a city cruise ship dock in downtown Juneau.

“My hats off to the Coast Guard,” Borg said. “They stepped up.”

The next step is figuring out what to do with the tugboat. Borg said it will go up for auction on March 6, with a 2 p.m. deadline, to see if anyone is interested in buying the boat and taking it off the city’s hands. But there’s some stipulations to the auction — if someone purchases the boat, they will have to take it out of the harbor within 24 hours, Borg said.

“If I don’t have any bids, we’ll figure out how to dispose of it,” he said.

Right now, the two main options are to do a land-based disposal by bringing the boat to a junkyard, or to scuttle the boat by bringing it to waters 2,000 feet or deeper 12 miles off the coast and sinking it, Borg said.

“We’ve done all of the environmental assessment on it, and we’ve put in an application to the Department of Environment Conservation and to the Coast Guard to do a deep water scuttle of it,” said CBJ Docks and Harbors Board member Don Etheridge.

If they go with a land-based disposal, it could cost the city upwards of $300,000, Borg said.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the process for scuttling is fairly easy but they rely on the Coast Guard Sector Juneau to monitor the disposal plan and determine what is the appropriate level of cleanliness with a big part of that being the tow plan, according to the CBJ Docks and Harbor minutes.

During a January 30 Docks and Harbors meeting Port Director Carl Uchytil said the vessel needs to be clean for an in-water disposal. But the question was asked, “What does clean mean?”

There is no real standard for what needs to be done to make the Lumberman “clean.” Uchytil said the cleanliness could be a moving target with regards to petroleum products. Lead paint and asbestos is not an issue, it is the fuel tanks and hydraulic lines that are the interest of the Coast Guard. DEC would have no statutory oversight in this because the deep-water disposal would be 12 miles off the Alaska coast and DEC has no authority there, he said.

Borg said there had been a request for information, and a dive group in Juneau had suggested sinking it in shallow water to use for diving, but Etheridge said he’s not pursuing that process and that the idea was basically shot down by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The funny thing about it is that the city never even made any money off the boat, Borg said, and now they’ve spent thousands on dealing with it. Docks and Harbors charges fees to boats that they then put back in to the harbor, but the city never collected any money from the owner of the Lumberman.

“We gotta make it go away before tourist season,” Etheridge said. “Or maybe we clean it up and paint it here and use it as an attraction.”

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Steven Grunstein
3 years ago

I say clean it paint it and charge admission for people to come aboard and take tours of it. And also set the inside up as if it is able to go to work tomorrow. Bunks heads everything. Maybe even a helm that has working electronics. I think a lot of folks would pay 3.00 bucks a head to check it out. Have story boards scattered about telling whsts what. I think as an attraction for tours I can see a lot of males doing it. And some females. And a lot of boys bugging the parents for the tour.… Read more »

3 years ago

I always told the guests on my tours the story about the tug as we passed. I suggested that one of them should buy it and turn it into an Airbnb. Always got a few laughs and a few saying that would be a great idea.