Sunken boat on Tahoe’s South Shore will be removed, eventually |

Sunken boat on Tahoe’s South Shore will be removed, eventually

Laney Griffo
A boat sank off Pope Beach in January. Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Getting a sunken boat out of Lake Tahoe sometimes isn’t so easy.

On Jan. 20, the Coast Guard Lake Tahoe station responded to a report of a sunken boat off Pope Beach.

Lt. Pantelis Vasilarakis, Coast Guard Sector San Francisco’s logistics department deputy, said when a boat sinks, determining if there is pollution or not is the first and most important step.

In this case, they were able to determine there was no pollution but nearly a month after the boat was reported, it’s still there.

This is where things get complicated. Lake Tahoe Station Chief Colt Fairchild said clean up is always the responsibility of the boat’s owner.

However, Vasilarakis said if an owner isn’t found, can’t or doesn’t respond, local agencies will have to address the issue. He said in Lake Tahoe, the Environmental Protection Agency will take lead on cleaning up pollution, if there is any.

Still, the owner is financially responsible for getting pollutants cleaned up, so even if they aren’t found prior to the clean up, they will receive a bill after, which Vasilarakis said can be up to three times more than the original cost.

When it comes to getting the boat hauled out, that also is the responsibility of the owner, unless again they can’t be reached.

“It’s always difficult to get boats hauled out when they are abandoned, but it’s a team effort,” said Jeff Cowen, public information officer for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “TRPA works with USCG and the local jurisdiction whenever this happens — in this case, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office.”

EDCSO said they are working with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, which falls under the umbrella of the California EPA, to get the boat hauled out. They have not responded about what kind of timeline they are expecting to get it removed.

High Sierra Marine will be storing the boat while the owner prepares to either take it or destroy it.

Cowen said they’d like to streamline the process.

“These instances are relatively rare, so responding is usually on a case-by-case basis and sometimes many agencies are involved,” Cowen said. “In the long term, TRPA would like to establish a consistent, collaborative method to respond to these cases as quickly as possible.”

Colin West, founder of Clean up the Lake, said they’d like to be involved in the streamlining process.

The organization, founded a year ago, coordinators dive efforts to remove trash and debris from Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake. West said they are currently permitted to pick up smaller items but said they’ve pinpointed 100-150 items 500 pounds or heavier. So, he’s working on getting permits to remove heavier items.

He wants to be one of the groups that are part of the automatic response when a situation like this happens.

“I’d really like to promote communication across jurisdictions,” West said.

One thing both Cowen and Fairchild emphasized is when a boat sinks, it’s important to get it out as soon as possible.

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