Oregon wants to stop using school funds to clean up neglected boats

Since 2017, Oregon has used nearly $13 million from the Common School Fund to remove abandoned and neglected boats from waterways. But Oregon’s top politicians want it to stop.

The Common School Fund is overseen by the State Land Board, which consists of three of the state’s top elected leaders: Governor Kate Brown, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, and State Treasurer Tobias Read. The council wants the money to clean the boats to come from elsewhere.

Boats anchored in the Willamette River near Ross Island appear to be abandoned, June 25, 2022. In June, the State Land Board ordered the department to request $40 million in general state funds to create a state program to accommodate the hundreds of commercial and recreational vessels that litter Oregon’s waterways. If the request is approved, about 175 recreational boats in the Portland metro area would be retired, but not until 2024 or 2025.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

“Oregon school children are footing the bill for cleaning up derelict and derelict ships,” State Lands Department Director Vicki Walker said at a board meeting. “Every dollar spent cleaning up this mess is a dollar out of the classroom.”

The Common School Fund is a special fund generated by the sale of property and timber on land dedicated to funding education since Oregon became a state. The fund currently stands at $2.2 billion, with 3.5% distributed to schools twice a year, which equates to more than $150 million. It is a significant, but relatively small, source of school funding compared to the State School Fund, which is funded largely by income taxes controlled by the Oregon Legislature.

Often the State Land Department can operate on its own revenue, but when there is a project with a high price tag, the department will hit the Common School Fund.

In June, the State Land Board directed the department to seek $40 million in general state funds to create a state program to combat the hundreds of commercial and recreational vessels that litter the waterways of the state. ‘Oregon. If the request is approved, about 175 recreational boats in the Portland metro area would be retired, but not until 2024 or 2025.

Tuesday’s State Land Board meeting highlighted the need to remove 19 known commercial vessels of concern, including the emergency removal of Tourist No. 2, a 1920s river ferry, which began sinking in the Columbia near Astoria. Cleaning up this ship alone is expected to cost over a million dollars.

The pollutants were removed from the ship by the US Coast Guard, Walker said, but the ship’s poor condition, proximity to a fuel dock and shipping channel pose an imminent threat to public health and safety.

Boats anchored in the Willamette River near Ross Island appear to be abandoned, June 25, 2022. In June, the State Land Board ordered the department to request $40 million in general state funds to create a state program to accommodate the hundreds of commercial and recreational vessels that litter Oregon's waterways.  If the request is approved, about 175 recreational boats in the Portland metro area would be retired, but not until 2024 or 2025.

Boats anchored in the Willamette River near Ross Island appear to be abandoned, June 25, 2022. In June, the State Land Board ordered the department to request $40 million in general state funds to create a state program to accommodate the hundreds of commercial and recreational vessels that litter Oregon’s waterways. If the request is approved, about 175 recreational boats in the Portland metro area would be retired, but not until 2024 or 2025.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

“Failing to take action to remove this hazard from the water is not an option,” she said. “But Oregon school kids are paying yet again to clean up a mess created by an irresponsible shipowner.”

Walker said the owner had insurance for the vessel, but the department would sue them for the charges.

Walker said the department has work to do in terms of creating a program and plan to remove derelict ships. She said the state does not have a complete list of these abandoned vessels. Many require inspection to assess condition, contamination levels, and environmental and physical hazards.

“So that we can prioritize the most dangerous ships that require our quickest action,” Walker said.

The ministry must submit its budget, including the $40 million request, by September. It will then be reviewed by the governor’s office and submitted to the Legislative Assembly for approval as part of the state budget for 2023-25.

Earnest A. Martinez