PORTLAND -- The Portland metro area has a growing problem with transient boaters anchoring in local rivers.
Chances are, you’ve seen them in the Willamette River or Columbia River. Many are tied to public docks or anchored just off shore.
In recent months, deputies said the number of transient boaters in area rivers has exploded.
“Three years ago it was maybe a dozen to fifteen,“ said Multnomah County River Patrol deputy Todd Shanks. “Now we have approximately 70 vessels documented, and at least 35 to 40 are active transient boats with people living on them.”
David Parsons is one of them. He’s anchored near Ross Island. “(I) Came down here for the Blues Festival and just decided to stay,“ he said, adding that living on the water is cheap, keeps him off the streets and "for the most part is safe.”
His story is not unique.
“It was either go under a bridge or come to a boat, and I decided to come to a boat,” said Donald Yates. Yates has called the river home for three years and is currently anchored near the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge.
Farther south, transient boaters have all but taken over Duckworth Dock. About a dozen, mostly small sailboats, line both sides.
Robert Davis owns one of them. “It so much cheaper for me to live on my boat than it was to live in an apartment, especially when I don’t have a job,” Davis said.
But, as the number of transient boaters has increased, so have the complaints.
Detective Shanks said callers complain about boats in disrepair filled with trash dotting the shore and raw sewage being dumped into the river.
Other complaints include boats blocking shipping channels or even sinking.
Deputies estimate that it will cost $12,000 to remove a boat that recently sank in the North Portland Harbor.
Last year, the State Marine Board spent $6,000 hauling away a different boat that had washed ashore on Hayden Island.
Less than a month ago another boat went down near the railroad bridge. “So, we’re in the process of trying to figure out a way to fund getting that boat taken out of the water,” Shanks said, adding that there’s no easy solution to the growing problem.
When boaters are moored on public docks, it’s up to Portland Parks and Recreation to issue exclusions if they remain beyond 72 hours.
Boats anchored off shore fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of State Lands.
Current law allows boaters to remain anchored in one spot for 30 days before they must move at least 5 miles away, or a face a penalty.
“Technically, it's trespassing and we have authority to assess civil penalties,” said Lori Warner-Dickeson, a supervisor with the state agency.
Although she admits, issuing tickets isn’t the solution. “Particularly with the homeless population,” she said.
With more homeless leaving land for life on the river, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s River Patrol Unit has organized a series of meetings with several local agencies including The Department of State Lands, Portland Parks and Recreation, JOIN and The Office of Neighborhood Involvement for Crime Prevention.
Their goal is to find a long-term solution to deal with the growing number of Portland’s homeless calling our waterways home.
“If we don’t get on the front-end of this thing, it could really become an issue for us,“ Shanks added.