The story of a motorboat on Malletts Bay, despite being frozen in the ice, has gone all the way to the governor, according to town manager Dawn Francis.
The Colchester Sun initially reported on the half-sunk boat, that ostensibly breaks no laws, in early December. Since then, town officials, Colchester police and numerous state agencies have struggled to determine who has the legal authority to remove it.
Last Friday, the town issued an update.
“It appears [state officials] will be using their authority under state laws to remove the boat,” Francis wrote in a news release.
Francis said Michele Boomhower of the Vermont Agency of Transportation and Emily Boedecker of the Agency of Natural Resources resolved to help.
Boomhower, VTrans director of policy, planning and intermodal development, said ANR came up with the “underlying authority” to address the matter.
“Going forward, we’re going to be working with the House and Senate transportation committees to address the state statute related to abandoned vehicles,” Boomhower said.
The DMV’s abandoned vehicles statute states “A law enforcement officer is authorized to remove (or bring about the removal of) an abandoned motor vehicle” from both public and private property.
Boomhower said the agency is looking into tweaking policy so it applies to boats, as well as other vehicles not included in the original statute, like ATVs.
“In the future, the jurisdiction issue will be completely clear,” she said.
If all goes to plan, the vehicle’s owner will be responsible for any costs incurred by the state for the removal, Boomhower said.
Emily Boedecker, commissioner of ANR’s department of environmental conservation, said the boat falls in a “gray area.”
“If there had been a clearly jurisdictional answer, this boat would have been removed months ago,” she said.
Exactly what the legislation will look like and when it will appear is still unknown, Boedecker said, but vowed to come up with both short-term and long-term solutions to the problem.
“Laws are developed over time,” she said. “[It’s] not completely unusual that jurisdictional lines are unclear … this case has highlighted one.”
Boedecker said if the owner of the vessel comes forward, her agency “would be happy to work with them.”
CPD’s records identify the owner of the boat as Matthew Yarbenet of Essex Jct.
Lt. Doug Allen said CPD contacted Yarbenet, though “it wasn’t really a conversation,” he said.
“He answered the phone, we talked to him, and he hung up,” Allen said.
The Sun was unsuccessful in attempting to reach Yarbenet.
The Sun’s initial story in early December prompted a number of comments and criticisms from the public, mostly directed at the boat owner, the town and state laws.
Many have voiced concern over the environmental, aesthetic and safety impacts the boat has on the bay and surrounding area.
“Why is there no law or fine protecting the environment and our Town of Colchester?” one Front Porch Forum user asked. “We talk about cleaning up the lake all the time … yet this boat remains in the water”
Another, more bluntly, wrote “Shame on the state and Colchester.”
One FPF user said the boat was in so little water, it could have been dragged out with a tractor.
Some creative options also came to light, and one Good Samaritan urged neighbors to band together and get the boat out themselves.
In a Front Porch Forum post last Friday, Francis attempted to placate the public.
“The town cannot simply take matters into our own hands,” she wrote. “We must not take a reckless or unlawful approach that might result in a lawsuit from the boats owner or put our community and employees at risk.”
On the phone, Francis said the town isn’t passing the buck and repeatedly emphasized one point.
“The town of Colchester does not have any jurisdiction or authority over the lake,” she said.