Help is on the way to clear derelict structures under Muzzall legislation

Who is responsible for cleaning up aquatic ruins like dilapidated piers or crumbling bulkheads? The state Department of Natural Resources is tasked with the job, but the process is still murky.

Senate Bill 5433, sponsored by state Sen. Ron Muzzall, is focused on shoring up the program to keep state-owned aquatic lands hazard free and environmentally sound.

The bipartisan proposal would establish a derelict structure removal program under the auspices of the DNR for qualifying projects. In addition, it would direct the agency to create a grant program for private lessees of state aquatic lands in need of financial assistance to keep nearshore habitats healthy.

“My district has so many miles of shoreline and the maritime industry keeps it thriving, but that doesn’t come without its challenges,” said Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor. “Our state’s waterways have been plagued by derelict vessels and I’m proud to have sponsored this legislation to address a different kind, but no less hazardous, obstacle in our waters.”

The program that would be created under the bill sponsored by Muzzall is like the existing one focused on removal of derelict ships, but would look at larger, often man-made structures that present different challenges for removal. The bill outlines criteria for classification as a derelict structure and options for the DNR to collaborate and appropriately respond.

“These structures can be a blight but also a hazard to navigation and pose significant environmental risks that can’t be overlooked,” Muzzall said. “We need this clarification in the law so that the DNR can work with local partners to protect this invaluable resource.”

Under the proposal, the Department of Natural resources has until July 2024 to establish eligibility criteria for the proposed grant program but must begin developing and prioritizing projects by January 2024. DNR would be directed to prioritize the removal and remediation of the most precarious structures at risk of collapsing, obstructing navigation or posing significant environmental risks.

The measure was passed unanimously Monday by the state Senate and now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.