The owner of a boat that sank last year near Finley will be the third person charged criminally since the state attorney general's office began going after owners of derelict vessels.
Brandon D. Traner, 30, of Portland, faces misdemeanor charges of abandoning a derelict vessel and releasing pollutants into state waters, according to documents filed Tuesday by the attorney general's office in Benton County District Court.
Traner owned a 41-foot wooden fishing boat, the Forus, that sank July 12 about two miles down the Columbia River from Two Rivers Park in Finley.
When a crane barge pulled the 50-year-old boat from the river bottom Aug. 14, about 50 gallons of diesel fuel had flowed into the river. Another 159 gallons was still left in the tank.
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Assistant Attorney General Josh Choate said Traner told investigators the boat had just 50 gallons of fuel inside.
The charges are part of Attorney General Bob Ferguson's efforts to crack down on environmental crime.
The attorney general's office doesn't typically initiate prosecutions, but Ferguson said local prosecutors have had limited resources to take on people who abandon sunken boats. And the state natural resources and ecology departments lack criminal investigations units, which has required them to go to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for enforcement.
"It's just a tremendous cost to taxpayers, tremendous damage to our environment and we hope this will serve as an additional deterrent," said Ferguson. "It's a team effort, with the local prosecutors, with the feds and with Josh in our office to bring these cases forward."
The EPA brought the case to the attorney general's office, but the office is moving forward with the blessing of Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller, said attorney general's spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie.
If convicted of the derelict vessel charge, Traner could face up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, while the pollution charge could carry up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.
But Choate said he hopes the real deterrent will be the state's ability to seek all of the money back that it pays for removing the boat, which cost more than $100,000 in the case of the Forus.
"We've got to get the word out and be a deterrent for future people who say, 'This boat is $100 on Craigslist, this is going to be fun,' " Choate said.
Traner had the boat moved after he was evicted from the Columbia Marine Center in Pasco for failing to pay moorage fees and provide proof of insurance, according to court documents. He let Lyle R. Aylett pilot the boat to another marina downstream, and the boat started taking on water shortly after leaving the Pasco marina.
EPA on-scene coordinator Richard Franklin told investigators that he called Traner and sent him a letter notifying him of federal laws that require boat owners to remove their vessels from public waterways.
He told Traner that he would be responsible for cleanup costs and damages, documents said. Franklin said that Traner told him he owned the boat but didn't have money or insurance to remove it.
The boat's masts were tall enough to cause a safety and navigational hazard to passing boats, even though it sank in 40 feet of water, documents said.
Jim Toroni, owner of the Pasco marina, told investigators that he placed a lien on the Forus because Traner hadn't paid moorage fees for several months, documents said.
Ferguson and Miller have called a news conference today in Kennewick to discuss the charges.
Traner is the first person in Eastern Washington charged by the attorney general's office under derelict vessel laws, Ferguson said. Charges against owners of two boats in Western Washington were filed last month.
Traner could not be reached Tuesday about the charges.
w Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom