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UPDATE: Stinky sunken boat on Terra Ceia Bay finally removed

PALMETTO -- The sunken boat in Terra Ceia Bay in Palmetto that was frustrating nearby residents with a foul odor has finally been removed.

According to Alan Laihipp, Manatee County environmental manager, the contractor was able to successfully remove the mud and remove the cabin that had come loose during salvage attempts. The boat was then towed away for disposal.

It's unsure how the boat sank in the spot visible from the U.S. 19 Bridge over the bay. It was first reported April 6, said Laihipp.

Residents were perplexed at the length of time the county took to remove the vessel, but Laihipp said county officials responded the day after the boat was reported and followed the legal process to have it removed.

At least one resident told the Bradenton Herald Thursday that the boat had been reported months prior as an abandoned vessel before it sunk. David Kraner said it is one of many abandoned boats on the bay that is putting residents at risk in the event of a storm.

County officials reported no other unreported abandoned vessels, but encourages residents to call to report potential threats on the water.

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"People may think it is supposed to go quicker and sometimes it does," said Laihipp. "But we are talking about marine salvage. It's not the same as picking up an old couch on the side of the road."

Laihipp said he responded to the call April 7. An evaluation was done to determine whether the vessel met state statutes defining what an abandoned vessel is and "that can be subjective."

Laihipp said the Terra Ceia vessel was obviously abandoned but an effort was made to contact the owner. Once the identifying numbers were run through the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles to determine ownership, the county sent a certified letter to the owner to take responsibility.

"In this case, that took longer because the letter kept getting forwarded to different addresses," he said. "It was forwarded for about two weeks before it was returned as undeliverable. I'm required to wait until that happens or give a reasonable amount of time for the owner to contact me. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they don't even respond."

Laihipp said the removal process has proven more difficult since the boat was filled with mud. The contractor was able to remove the mud by Wednesday and partially float the vessel for towing.

"Then the top of half of the cabin fell off," he said. "So the contractor has to bring his barge back to remove the cabin and then tow the vessel. I anticipate the boat to be gone by" Thursday.

Laihipp said the contractor is paid based on the job, which depends on factors such as the size of the boat and circumstances of removal. So if delays occur: "It's not costing taxpayers any more money. If anything, it's hurting the contractor when delays happen."

Removals range from simply towing a boat away to the complications on the bay. Laihipp said the county pays an average of $2,500 to $3,000 per removal for about 20 abandoned or sunken boats a year in Manatee County waterways.

Finding the responsible party is difficult at best.

"It's why we promote to people that if you sell your boat, make sure the person you sell it to registers it, because what happens a lot is that the person doesn't and you are still the registered owner," said Laihipp. "I've had situations where we have gone to remove a boat, contacted the registered owner and were told: 'I sold that boat seven years ago.' "

Laihipp said some people who buy a boat don't believe it's the same thing as owning a car, and leave it on public waters or intentionally sink it when they don't want it any more.

The lack of paper trail makes it easy for owners to shirk responsibility for derelict boats.

"There are rules to protect the seller and buyer, but unfortunately a vessel can change hands very easy and sometimes for little money, and that doesn't leave much of a paper trail to follow," he said.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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