A Portland man has been sentenced to 20 days in jail for abandoning a 41-foot wooden fishing boat that sank in the Columbia River near Finley and polluted the water.
Brandon D. Traner, who owned the boat, also was slapped with $540 in fines and assessments and two years of probation.
He still faces a restitution hearing to determine the amount of money he must repay to Washington for its work to recover the boat, which sank July 12, 2013, about two miles down the Columbia River from Two Rivers Park in Finley.
Recovering the 50-year-old boat, the Forus, took the state more than a month and cost more than $100,000, including cleanup costs. By the time it was lifted from the bottom of the river, it had leaked 50 gallons of diesel fuel but still had 159 gallons in its tank.
Traner is the first person convicted after Bob Ferguson, the Washington attorney general, began going after owners of derelict vessels as part of efforts to crack down on environmental crime. Just two months before Traner’s boat sank, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill to strengthen the state’s ability to address derelict boats.
Traner, who was 30 when he was charged earlier this year, had the Forus 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 asked his friend, Lyle Aylett, to pilot the boat to the Hat Rock Marina in Oregon. But Aylett told investigators the boat soon began taking on water in the middle of the navigation channel, forcing him to abandon it and swim to safety.
Richard Franklin of the Environmental Protection Agency told investigators that he called and wrote Traner, telling him he was responsible for cleanup. Not only was the boat leaking fuel, but its masts were tall enough to cause a safety and navigational hazard to passing boats, even though it sank in 40 feet of water, according to legal documents.
Traner told the EPA he did not have money to remove the boat and EPA approached Ferguson’s office to file charges.
On March 21, Traner failed to show up in Benton County District Court and an arrest warrant with $2,100 bail was issued.
When authorities contacted Traner in Oregon, he said he planned to “out wait” efforts to prosecute him and did not plan to return to Washington to face charges, according to the attorney general’s office.
Ferguson’s staff then succeeded in having the court increase Traner’s bail to $50,000 and permit his extradition from Oregon. Traner was apprehended outside his Portland home July 30.
He pleaded guilty Wednesday from the Benton County jail to charges of abandoning a derelict vessel and discharge of pollution into state waters. Ferguson worked with Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller on the case.
Removing the boat from the water was difficult. It was partially lifted and moved to water about 6 feet deep, but it could not be towed upriver because of lead weights in its hull, which made it unbalanced. A large derrick barge crane, which was not available in the Tri-Cities, had to be brought in to lift it.
After Traner’s boat was lifted from the water, it was taken to the Port of Pasco for storage until it could be dismantled and sent for disposal.
Ferguson also has filed charges against the owners of two derelict vessels that have leaked hundreds of gallons of fuel into Puget Sound. Cleanup costs for the Helena Star of Pierce County and the Chickamauga of Kitsap County are expected to be more than $1 million.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; email@example.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews