Boats at 'Boneyard beach' burned

Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Juneau Harbor Department workers did some spring cleaning at the "boneyard beach" below the Thane Road campground on Monday, torching a pile of abandoned boats that littered the area for decades.

"Why now? Well, it's been an eyesore," said Harbormaster Chuck Wescott, who supervised the burn. "I've lived here since '78 and some boats have been there that long."

The beach, strewn with all manner of abandoned belongings from schnapps bottles and mangled bicycles to a barnacle-encrusted metal fishing boat, had been the final resting place for close to a dozen wayward watercraft. After impounding them, the Harbor Department hauled three fiberglass boats to the dump and burned five wooden boats from the beach along with five other wooden boats that had been abandoned around Juneau, Wescott said.

Over the years, the boats have become temporary homes for homeless or transient people. Currently only one boat-dweller lives on the beach in a faded, vintage cabin cruiser covered with old tarps and carpet remnants. Wescott has been planning the beach cleanup since the fall, he said, and notified the cruiser's

occupant then. He decided to wait until spring for the cleanup, however, because he didn't want to leave anyone without a place to live during the winter months.

"We don't want to be hard-nosed," he said. "But we just want it cleaned up."

The cabin cruiser remained undisturbed Monday. Wescott has given the occupant a month to find a new home. No one answered a knock at the cabin cruiser door Sunday evening, but a dog was barking inside.

Sunday afternoon before the burn, the heap of tangled wood and debris on the rocky beach stood about as tall and wide as a large tour bus. Stretching from one end of the mess was a weathered red-and-white hull that read "SUDAN." The pile burned from 9:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday night. Some pieces of the demolished boats were carried by the tide across Gastineau Channel to Sandy Beach.

Before burning the boats, the harbormaster got a permit from local fire officials and checked with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Anything that would have created toxic smoke was removed, Wescott said, including engines, oil and fuel. Most of the paint on the boats had been stripped by years of weather, he said, and the plume of smoke that trailed down Gastineau Channel was white, indicating a "clean burn."

The cleanup took about four days, and Wescott said the city wants to continue to improve the beach.

"It's looking a lot better and we hope to get the rest of it cleaned up," he said. "When you look at it (now), it could be a really nice beach.

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