New Law to Help Keep Estuary Clean

Calrecycle A 105-foot tugboat nicknamed Captain Al was pulled from the bottom of the Oakland Estuary as part of a $4.3 million cleanup effort in 2013. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed legislation that should give the 2013 cleanup lasting effect.

California has a new law that should help keep the Oakland Estuary clean. In 2013, the Oakland Police Department joined forces with the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) and assessed the need for cleanup of the Estuary.

CalRecycle determined the estuary and its shoreline were adversely impacted by an abundance of marine debris had adversely impacted the estuary and its Oakland and Alameda shorelines. This debris included more than 40 abandoned and sunken marine vessels — including two massive sunken tug boats.

These vessels contained toxic substances, including asbestos and heavy metals, lead and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). CalRecycle enlisted the help of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal, state and local agencies to remove the vessels and debris and restore the estuary for safe recreational and commercial use. The job cost some $4.3 million to complete.

On Oct. 8, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1323 into law.

The legislation will take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, and will go a long way in helping keep the Oakland Estuary safe and clean. The law establishes a new definition of marine debris in the state of California and provides expedited procedures to remove this debris. It will give all state and local government entities the authority to remove this debris from areas under their jurisdictions.

The new law should help authorities more quickly handle derelict, unseaworthy vessels or parts of vessels. These include derelict boats, wrecks, hulks or any parts of any ship or other watercraft. AB 1323 will also provide an expedited procedure for ridding the estuary of marine debris that is floating, sunk, partially sunk, or beached and that has no value or a value that does not exceed the cost of removal and disposal.

The law on the books today requires the public agencies adhere to strict notification procedures when it comes to removing derelict vessels. The new law exempts marine debris that constitutes a public nuisance, or a danger to navigation, health, safety, or the environment. The new law authorizes agencies to remove and dispose of such marine debris immediately, unless the debris is whole and the owner of is identifiable, in which case the bill would require agencies store and maintain the debris for 10 days.