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The homeless issue is not just land-based; there are squatters on the Willamette River also

DAVID F. ASHTON - The operator of a sailboat floating at the dock, and kinda the owner of the sunken vessel as well, talks with PP&R Parks Rangers. For weeks, most of the space along the dock at Sellwood Riverfront Park had been filled with vessels that didn't come to spend the day – they'd been there for weeks.

On July 31, a sailboat was spotting sinking in the Willamette River – after which, the mostly-submerged vessel ended up being moved and tied to the park's dock.

On Wednesday morning, August 7, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) River Patrol teamed up with Portland Parks & Recreation's Park Rangers, once again to tackle the problem.

"We're down here this morning as part of a long, coordinated effort with our 'Abandoned, Derelict Vessels, and Camping Task Force'," MCSO River Patrol Sergeant Mark Herron told THE BEE. "City, county, and multiple state agencies – along with the public – have been working tirelessly for several years to gain more compliance, regarding long-term 'camping' on the waters.

COURTESY OF LAURA MCKINNEY - A BEE reader photographed the unregistered sailboat while it was sinking in the Willamette River. "One of the biggest problems we've had has been boats illegally-moored at docks, or illegally-anchored boats and vessels," Herron said. "This eventually causes damage, as at here at the Riverfront Park boat dock; and now, there's a sunken boat attached to the dock and to the shorelines!"

Herron said that PP&R had contracted with a company to respond and remove the sunken boat, and then tow the two vessels – one of them which was chained to the dock.

Many called 'operators', not owners

"Records show that these boats are not legally registered, and probably haven't been for some period of time," Herron remarked. "For this reason, we call people on these boats 'operators', not 'owners' – because it's difficult to tell who actually owns these vessels."

After quite some time, on the morning of August 7, the operator of the floating sailboat "camping" at the dock told Park Rangers that he "used to, and still kind of, owns" the sunken boat. "Kinda." When the operator learned that a removal company was on the way, he pleaded long and hard for them to call off the recovery company.

However, with PP&R Park Rangers watching, and under the supervision of the Sheriff's Office deputies, workers from the Parks Bureau maintenance crew used a power saw to cut the cleat railing and remove the chain holding the large vessel to the dock. It was reportedly named the "Sun Princess".

"That operator has made several promises to us about being in compliance with the dock rules – but has not followed through, until today, when they called a 'rescue tug' in to help them move it," Herron said.

The owner/operators of the vessels were written citations for illegally tying up to the dock, as well as registration violations – the second of which might be dropped if they can prove that their boat is actually registered, Herron pointed out.

With a large law enforcement presence at the dock, the operator of the sunken sailboat was endlessly explaining, beseeching, and promising to comply – saying that his friends were "on their way" to help him raise the sunken vessel "this very day".

As it turned out, the contractor never showed up at the dock that day, giving the operator a brief reprieve. The sunken boat was finally removed three days later.

Because PP&R has responsibility for enforcing regulations at the dock, the Bureau's spokesperson, Mark Ross, said they've been aware of the situation.

"PP&R is the lead agency to handle the issues at Sellwood Riverfront Park's dock; the sinking vessel was affecting our property," Ross told THE BEE later in the day. "It was tied to several trees, causing one tree to fall, and putting others at risk of failure," he pointed out.

"We've been working for days to find and notify all the boat owners who've tied up at the site," Ross said. "We've posted the boats, texted, called, and posted to them on social media – exhausting every effort to contact them."

Ross revealed that the dock repair was expected to take until the end of August. "Once the inspection shows the dock is structurally sound, and/or that any necessary safety repairs are complete, we will reopen it," he promised.

The various boat docks along the river which are owned and managed by PP&R are designed for, and designated for, daily/short-term use only – not for long-term tie-ups, Ross remarked. "We continue ongoing education efforts for boaters so they can adhere to the park rules."


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