Rusted barrel-like debris stranded on Palm Beach; whose responsibility is it to remove it?

·4 min read

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A barnacle-encrusted buoy is proving a stubborn piece of flotsam to remove from the Palm Beach shoreline as it stymies cleanup crews and the town.

The barrel-shaped float – either for an anchor or a dredge – showed up this month, likely driven by a nor’easter that tumbled it and its 40-foot length of chain for several days in nearshore whitewater before beaching it on the north end of the island.

Diane Buhler, founder of the beach cleaning not-for-profit Friends of Palm Beach has hauled away some formidable beach debris in her day including a sofa, hefty rubber bales, UFO-shaped fish aggregating devices and jagged boat wreckage, but even her crew was bested by the buoy.

A dredge float washed up on the beach near Angler Avenue.
A dredge float washed up on the beach near Angler Avenue.

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“I’m trying to create a Friends of Palm Beach and town plan for these items but I get busy with trash and then wham, something big like this comes ashore, and there’s no plan,” said Buhler who is frustrated that some beach debris falls into a no-man’s land of clean up responsibility.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine debris manual for Florida that was updated in May includes a detailed flowchart of who is expected to clear large beach garbage. For debris on private property, it points to the property owner as the designated refuse collector and notes that the cleanup may be eligible for Emergency Watershed Protection Program funds.

NOAA's Florida marine debris flowchart on who is responsible for removing beach and waterway trash.
NOAA's Florida marine debris flowchart on who is responsible for removing beach and waterway trash.

But other caveats include whether the debris is above the mean high water mark, on federally maintained property, on public property, leaking dangerous toxins or creating a public hazard – all factors that further muddle responsibility.

Rob Weber, the town's coastal program manager, said he's been unable to determine who the buoy belongs to, but officials from the police and fire departments inspected it to ensure it wasn't leaking anything hazardous.

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Although not on public property, the town's beach cleaner made a special effort to pick up the buoy with its tractor, but the beefy buoy proved too heavy for even the heavy equipment to lift it. The town pays Universal Beach Services $50,000 a year to clean its public beaches, Midtown and Phipps Ocean Park.

The Army Corps of Engineers is looking into the buoy situation after being queried about whether the float was part of one of its projects or who may be responsible for picking it up, said Corps public affairs specialist Erica Skolte.

Dredge float is on the beach near Angler Avenue in Palm Beach December 28, 2021. MEGHAN McCARTHY/The Palm Beach Daily News
Dredge float is on the beach near Angler Avenue in Palm Beach December 28, 2021. MEGHAN McCARTHY/The Palm Beach Daily News

Palm Beach County Coastal Resources Management Program Supervisor Andy Studt said if a similar buoy landed on a public county beach, its Parks and Recreation Department would likely handle it.

“Boats used for migrant landings are typically handled quickly by the feds (Coast Guard, DHS) since they have some authority,” Studt said in an email.

But he said the state has no dedicated budget to pick up such items and doesn’t typically do so unless it’s a public health issue.

Derelict vessels are a particularly convoluted cleanup.

In a May meeting of the Town of Palm Beach Shore Protection Board, Town Engineer Patricia Strayer said protocols outlined by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission say derelict vessels must stay on the beach from 30 to 45 days to give the owners an opportunity to collect their property.

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"There are laws about this in the books. You're not supposed to touch it because the town then accepts liability for it," she added.

When a boat is left on a private beach the issue becomes more complicated, Strayer said. Property owners must give permission for a contractor to remove a vessel and pay for the removal.

“There really should be a government agreement on these items between the county, state and federal,” said Buhler, who has been fined by the town for leaving large debris she took off the beach on the road for public pickup. “Everyone turns a blind eye.”

Kimberly Miller is a veteran journalist for The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA Today Network of Florida. She covers weather, climate and the environment and has a certificate in Weather Forecasting from Penn State. Contact Kim at kmiller@pbpost.com

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This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Rusty buoy washes up on Palm Beach with no one to remove it

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