There was a boat named “Can of Worms”. At the end of its lifespan, this once proud 44 foot fishing cruiser was obtained by people identifying themselves as Seattle’s “homeless”. In October 2019, the sailors loaded their possessions onto the boat, joined some individuals in a similar boat and sailed off. It wasn’t long until the boat grounded itself on the shore of Lake Washington, slicing a hole in its hull. The other boat in the flotilla, the Blue Dolphin, tried to pull the Can of Worms off the beach and in the process, blew out its already damaged transmission.
Now stranded, the crew acquired a generator and placed it on shore. They ran an extension cord from the generator through the water to the Can of Worms. Sailors on the Blue Dolphin, found a sheet, wrote on it “We need gas please” and draped it over the side. Over the course of the next few weeks, the boats would be joined by other boats creating a moored homeless fleet. While marooned at Adams Beach, the residents began dumping waste, sewage, garbage and more overboard while the vessels leaked fluids into Lake Washington.
Neighborhood residents and tenants of a nearby private moorage began noticing the occupants of the boats in yards and on the docks of the moorage at night. Residents of the nearby Seward Park and Lakewood neighborhoods began to grow nervous that the beach would end up being like the streets in other parts of Seattle that host derelict vehicles, inhabited by criminals and drug users. The neighbors contacted the police but there was little they could do. They contacted local elected officials who claimed to care about the environment, but their concerns went unanswered. When the situation remained unchanged 3 weeks later, they contacted the media.
Even after the story aired and was shared by local neighborhood groups, it wasn’t until late November that the boats were cited by Seattle police with a 72 hour impound warning. One boat disappeared, leaving its fellow sailors behind. In that time, an election had gone by and a new Seattle Council Member, Tammy Morales had been elected. Morales would tell media outlets and forum attendees that her 11-year-old son was worried he would not live until 25 because of the climate crisis, and yet this boat remained on a beach two blocks from her home and visible outside her windows, leaking oil and polluting the lake.
In December, mounting pressure by residents and the media, caused the boat to be added to Washington’s Inventory of Vessels of Concern. Notice went out that the Seattle Harbor Patrol would take custody of the vessel on Dec. 20, 2019. Yet the boats remained through January. Neighbors and neighborhood groups like Safe Seattle began making memes of Gilligan’s Island to showcase the failure and hypocrisy of local government.
Towards the end of February, a sticker appeared on the side of the boat, similar to ones common on the dilapidated RVs that have become the symbol of Seattle’s failure to address the “homeless” crisis and crime on the streets. Signs announcing the closure of the beach for two days were also posted.
On February 24, two wreckers and an excavator were used to hoist the Can of Worms ashore for its final voyage, aboard a flatbed truck to a scrap yard in Yakima, two-and-a-half hours away from Seattle, for a cost to tax payers of approximately US$42,000.
Seattle and Washington State politicians proclaim that they want a “Green New Deal”. Jay Inslee, governor of Washington State, even ran for president with the sole narrative of combating climate change. Yet, despite all the virtue signaling, increasing taxes and crippling regulation, Washington’s greenhouse gases increased.
In an op-ed to the Seattle Times, business leaders Erin Goodman and Mike Stewart lamented the damage being caused to the environment by the “homeless” RVs on the streets of Seattle.
“Many of these RV owners fail to follow proper waste-disposal protocols, instead discharging their accumulated sewer wastes, including “black water,” directly into the city storm drains. The result is that untreated sewage is being released directly into our local waterways.
Using Environmental Protection Agency wastewater pump-out and treatment statistics, it’s estimated that Seattle RV campers likely discharge more than one million gallons of untreated sewage annually into our waterways, including the Duwamish Waterway and Salmon Bay. For comparison, a July spill of three million gallons from the West Point Treatment Plant closed multiple King and Kitsap counties’ beaches and could lead to enforcement actions. The Sodo Business Improvement Area and Ballard Alliance commissioned Anchor QEA, a Seattle-based environmental science and engineering firm, to evaluate existing water-quality data and collect a storm drain water sample from a heavily populated RV parking area in Sodo. The sample from the storm drain in the midst of the RVs registered 300 times greater than the state water-quality standard for fecal coliform bacteria. Sadly, this sampling result is consistent with recent trends in deteriorating water quality in the area. For example, historic water quality monitoring data showed a decades-long improvement in the Duwamish River—until 2015, when fecal coliform bacteria measurements began to spike upward. This coincides with the movement of hundreds of RVs into Sodo.”
In lawsuits against Perdue Pharma, Seattle and King County attribute the “homeless crisis” to over 80 percent of the residents on the streets having a drug/opioid addiction. Recently levels of methamphetamines have been on the rise in local waterways such as the Puget Sound and Lake Washington as well as two vehicle-related contaminants that are found in tires and other vehicle sources, and two chemicals found in plastics. This is not surprising given the thousands of plastic needles that are given out by Seattle sponsored needle exchanges, are found scattered all over Seattle sidewalks and parks.
Washington State has decided to no longer provide free pumpouts through the Clean Vessel Act (CVA). The State no longer feels this is good use of the federal grant money. The CVA provides funds for the construction, renovation, operation, and maintenance of pumpout stations and waste reception facilities for recreational boaters and also for educational programs that inform boaters of the importance of proper disposal of their sewage.
Now before you say, “Who cares about rich people and their toys? They can pump their own poop or pay for it themselves”, the Greater Seattle area has a large number of houseboats. Many people live on them because it is cheaper than a regular house. Sometimes, these boats are not movable. They rely on services like these, when they do not have shore services. Additionally, the money for the grant program comes from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund which is derived from excise taxes on fishing equipment, motorboat and small engine fuels and import duties. So those “rich people with their toys” have already paid for it.
For five months, the boat served as a symbol of government failure, and empty promises of combating climate change and politicians enabling the behavior which causes people to remain on the streets. It was local boat owners, regularly criticized as “the one percent” who not only urged agencies to take action to protect the waterways, but also footed the bill from their boat taxes which fund the Derelict Vessel Program. Meanwhile, virtue signaling politicians like Inslee and Morales warn us of the coming catastrophe of climate change and yet fail to take action when the problem is literally in their own neighborhoods. A “Can of Worms” indeed.
Ari Hoffman is an Op-ed contributor to the Post Millennial and the host of the Canary in a Coal Mine Podcast. He has been featured on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper, Fox and Friends, The Dr. Drew Show and The Glen Beck Program.