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Floating house's days in the Manatee River come to an end

MANATEE -- Harry Blenker stood on the first floor of a half-sunken, derelict floating house Monday and looked up as a member of his crew began tearing the roof off with a pry bar.

Blenker, owner of Quality Marine Construction of Palmetto, had just given his men the signal to start what is expected to be a week-long operation to remove the now infamous two-story floating house with the ironic name, “Dreammaker” from where it has been sitting for months in the Manatee River.

The house, which is not technically a houseboat because it has no propulsion of its own, has been sitting at a 45-degree angle between spans of the Interstate 75 bridge in Ellenton since storms carried it there.

For a structure that has engendered quite a bit of debate the past few months about taxpayers paying up to $20,000 to have it removed, Dreammaker will disappear rather easily, said crew member Stephen Blenker, 24, Harry’s son.

“We’ll be using pry bars, hammers and chain saws,” Stephen Blenker said. “We will carefully place the debris in bundles that will be picked up off the house with a crane. The crane will load the debris onto a pair of barges.”

During daylight hours all during the week, the filled barges will be pushed to shore where they will be emptied onto trucks heading for the landfill, Harry Blenker said.

Motorists going over the bridge can’t see the operation below due to the height of the sides of the bridge.

“There will be no rubbernecking going on,” Stephen Blenker said.

Although Monday’s operation was not out of the ordinary for the crew, which makes its living both building and dismantling, it has been a source of debate since Manatee County commissioners recently approved spending up to $20,000 to remove the floating house, which the owners, who once saw it as their dream home, have now abandoned.

Residents have wondered what the county laws are regarding floating houses and houseboats and why the owner of Dreammaker hasn’t been sued for the cost of removing it.

Charles A. Hunsicker, director of Manatee County’s natural resources department, said Monday that Manatee has a law on the books prohibiting residential floating structures like Dreammaker.

“If the owners had ever gotten the house floating, we were going to give them the news that such structures are not allowed here,” Hunsicker said.

Houseboats, however, are legal to live on in Manatee County, Hunsicker added.

As for suing the owners of houseboats or other vessels that are abandoned locally, Hunsicker said the county has learned that the cost of legal efforts ends up costing more than can usually be gained.

“You have to remember that abandoned and derelict vessels usually change hands from responsible owners to those who can’t put up a bond if we required it,” Hunsicker said.

Hunsicker says in the case of abandoned vessels, residents will have to take comfort that such situations are rare.

“These are isolated incidents,” Hunsicker said. “There are literally thousands of boat owners in Manatee County who do the right thing and take care of their personal property.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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