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What Do You Do With a Sunken Boat?

Three boats sank at the Chester Cove Marina, between Fells Point and Canton, almost a year ago and they’re still there, on the bottom, potentially polluting the surrounding water and annoying neighbors. And it's unclear whether anyone is doing anything about it.

The marina sits eerily abandoned at the foot of Wolf Street in Southeast Baltimore. Signs on the dock door say the electricity was shut off last February and warn, "No Trespassing." But there are no locks on the doors, so it's easy to stroll onto the docks.

Two dilapidated boats ride in slips at the end of B dock. A man in a black hoodie hops aboard one of them. Over on A dock trash bags pile up behind another unlocked door. Three sunken boats catch Susan Garraty’s eye.

"There is a mast right there completely submerged," she says, pointing toward the water. "There is one boat completely submerged." 

Garraty lives nearby in Fells Point and walks her dog by the marina every day.

"There is another boat that’s three-quarters submerged and I would say that just since yesterday because of the heavy rains that’s gone down like another foot," she says.

Garraty tweeted out pictures of the marina to Baltimore City leaders over the weekend asking for something to be done about the mess.

"This has become a homeless mecca. This has become a place where people do drugs," she complains. "This has become a place where children enter, and we have said get off of there! Get out of there this is a dangerous situation."

Granted, the marina and the boats are private property, Garraty says. But she wonders, "Does a boat owner have the right to let their vessel sink into the Patapsco River?"

Jenn Aiosa, executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, a clean water advocacy group, says nobody "has the right to pollute our waterways."

"Any time you have a boat that is sunk or not being maintained the way it should be we worry about things like could fuel be leaking? Are there other liquids or solvents that have been used on that boat that could be leaking?” 

According to state law, a boat left at a private marina for more than 90 days without permission is considered abandoned.

But it gets tricky because the marina is private property. And even though the Baltimore Police Department’s marine unit investigated the sinkings last August, there wasn’t much more they could do.

The unit’s Sergeant Kurt Roepcke says that it is the responsibility of the boat owners and the property owners to remove the boats.

Virginia-based Elm Street Development has owned the marina and the adjacent building on 2001 Aliceanna Street since 2005. The company plans to build 300 new townhomes and apartments on the site.

Lauren Bauer, an Elm Street vice president, said the company gave boat owners multiple notices and extra time to get their boats out of the water before they shut down the marina last fall.

She said the company is trying to work with a contractor to get the boats out of the water as soon as possible.

Aiosa, from Blue Water Baltimore, says Elm Street Development could reach out to the Department of Natural Resources for help, thuogh it might not come quickly.

"You know the Department of Natural Resources is responsible for all of the waterways in the state," she explained. "You know it may take some time before the DNR could respond."

Meanwhile, Garraty and other neighbors say their complaints to the city’s 3-1-1 assistance line have been ignored.

"My first 3-1-1 report was over 100 days ago," says Garraty. "This is critical because someone is going to be injured and then everyone’s going to throw up their hands and say, oh my gosh what a tragedy."

Unfortunately, Fells Point residents will have to wait and see.