Monroe County’s Marine Resources Office, in coordination with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, will accept applications through Aug. 18 for its new Vessel Turn-in Program (VTIP). The federally funded pilot program is for vessel owners who cannot afford to properly dispose of end-of-life boats that are anchored in Florida Keys waters.

The VTIP pilot program provides an opportunity for vessel owners lacking financial means to properly dispose of their boats – at no cost to them – before they become derelict or abandoned. Vessels must be 16 to 40 feet long and vessel owners must meet all eligibility requirements.

Applications and information about eligibility are available at www.monroecounty-fl.gov/VTIP or by calling 305-289-2805.

Applications can be submitted via email at [email protected] or to this address: Monroe County Marine Resources Office, ATTN: VTIP Program, 2798 Overseas Highway, Suite 420, Marathon, FL 33050. Applications must be submitted by Aug. 18 to be considered.

The County’s Marine Resources Office will review applications to determine eligibility and verify vessel documentation. All applicants will be notified of their eligibility for the VTIP program. However, participation of eligible vessel owners at the fall VTIP disposal event is first come, first served (based on receipt of applications) due to limited funding.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) funds the program through grant agreements with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and FWC.  The VTIP grant provides $100,500 in funding for vessels disposals during the first year of an expected five-year program. County Marine Resources staff estimates about 20-25 vessels – depending upon the size and condition – could be disposed of during this first disposal event in November.

Accepted participants will be provided vessel preparation and relocation instructions as needed. Participants must attend the VTIP disposal event to surrender vessel documentation, sign a release for disposal, and complete a program survey. Monroe County then will remove the vessel from the water and transport it to a waste facility for proper disposal.

“VTIP provides an alternative to vessel owners who may otherwise consider abandoning their boat,” said Rich Jones, Sr. Administrator for the County’s Marine Resources Office.

Once boats reach the derelict or abandoned stage, they can harm and pollute the marine habitat, create navigation hazards and usually are more expensive to remove and dispose. Boat owners who abandon or intentionally sink their vessels could be subject to fines and possible jail time.

Similar Vessel Turn-In Programs have been implemented in California, Oregon and Washington and have shown to reduce the number of derelict and abandoned vessels.  Monroe County, which has the most derelict vessels in Florida, was chosen for the state’s pilot program. If proven successful, the program may be expanded to other coastal areas of Florida.

The Marine Resources Office removes about 60 to 80 derelict vessels each year at an average annual cost of $160,000 to $180,000 paid from Boating Improvement Funds.  In 2016, the County spent $283,000 on derelict vessel removal thanks to an increase in law enforcement effort and available grant funding.

— Contributed

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