WWII-era vessel still stuck in the Mississippi

Published 7:30 am Sunday, December 25, 2011

HASTINGS — Four years after a World War II submarine chaser began to sink in the Mississippi River between Denmark Township and Hastings, prompting a web of government agencies to debate who was responsible for cleanup, the 200-ton boat remains.

Oil and petroleum have been cleared from the craft, and no environmental hazards remain. The boat is on the shoreline in shallow water and does not impede river traffic, officials say.

Not to mention the cost to remove the partially submerged craft would be hefty, and no one knows where the current owner is.

Email newsletter signup

“We don’t have the means to clean it up, and nobody has stepped up to say they’ll take care of this issue,” said Washington County sheriff’s Cmdr. Jerry Cusick, who oversees the water, parks and trails unit.

A local company experienced in marine work bid the removal project at nearly $140,000 — more than the water unit’s entire annual budget, Cusick said.

The sheriff’s office has fielded complaints about the boat over the years as it sits on the Washington County shoreline, and Cusick said he’s done his best to reach out to every possible government agency with a stake, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“I’ve been everywhere trying to get help,” Cusick said.

But the boat is not the responsibility of the sheriff’s office or anyone in the county, because it’s not in county or state waters, County Attorney Pete Orput said recently.

State statute requires the sheriff’s office to remove “hazards to navigation,” but this isn’t that, he said.

“Even if the boat was a hazard to navigation, the state statute would be inapplicable due to the Mississippi River’s designation as a water of the United States,” Orput said in a statement sent to the Pioneer Press. “Under the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would have responsibility for removal of the boat if it obstructed navigation.”

The boat sits near the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers — both federal waterways — on the banks of Denmark Township and in view of Hastings and Prescott, Wis.

Former owner Richard Lindsey lived on the converted minesweeper, which was used on D-Day and contained log books from the Normandy invasion, for 30 years. It was moored in the river when it began to sink in December 2007.

Lindsey said in 2007 that he was out of town when that happened and sold the boat to a friend shortly after.

The friend, Doug Lentz, told the Pioneer Press at the time that he had plans to resurrect and refurbish the craft.

Lindsey said recently that he thought the Army Corps had taken ownership of the craft and had removed it, or most of it, last year.

Cusick said that’s not the case. He had a colleague go check on the boat early in December to confirm that it’s still there.

It is. And it hasn’t budged, except maybe to go farther into the water.

While the craft may be an eyesore for some, it poses no real danger because the EPA removed the hazardous liquids back in December 2007, Cusick said. The river shores are peppered with boats and old bridge piers, and few of those cause a stir, he noted.

“There are abandoned man-made structures all over, going back to the logging era,” he said. “I’m not asking people to just accept this, but if we get into the task of cleaning up the river, where is it going to start and where is it going to end?”

The cost to remove the boat’s pollutants was nearly $70,000. The tab was picked up by the Environmental Protection Agency.

But who, if anyone, will complete the cleanup is unclear.

“The DNR, the Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Denmark Township have all apparently refused to accept responsibility for removing the wreck,” Orput said.

So there the boat sits. And will sit, until someone steps up to the plate or until the wood hull deteriorates completely in the brisk river waters.