Floating Burden - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Floating Burden

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She still floats, but the Nornie has definitely seen her better days.  For the past two years, the 37' sailboat has been docked behind the Panama City Marine Institute – encrusted with barnacles and unwanted by her owner.

"There's not much left of it," said Rusty Russell, who recently retired from his job as PCMI Executive Director.  "There's the hull, the mast, and that's pretty much what's left."

Bay County commissioners have authorized legal action to help dispose of the sailboat and relieve what has become a burden to the alternative school.  At the county's request, PCMI towed the boat to its property in downtown Panama City after the Nornie was abandoned in Pretty Bayou.  County officials said the sailboat became a safety hazard when it blocked access to the public boat ramp and impeded a county dredging project.

Now, a bank lien is preventing PCMI from scrapping the vessel.  "We've talked to the bank, they've called the owner [and] we've sent certified letters to the owner," Don Banks, Assistant County Attorney, told commissioners at their Tuesday meeting.  "They just don't want to respond and take care of it."

Commissioner Bill Dozier said PCMI's involvement meant the county didn't have to hire a salvage company.  "It would have been very expensive and so they saved the taxpayers a lot of money by the community service that they offered," he said.

These days, the boat is not much more than a liability for PCMI.  "We try to keep it secure so it doesn't break loose and damage the dock," said Russell.  "We're staying pretty busy keeping the batteries charged and keeping a bilge pump on it to keep the rainwater out."

PCMI has sent an invoice for $21,449 to the boat's trustee for storage fees, a debt the county might try to use as leverage.  Commissioners have authorized the county attorney to ask a judge for clear title to the vessel.  Russell said PCMI could then salvage the aluminum mast and lead in the keel.

Dozier said it's time to return PCMI's favor to the county.  "They've stepped up and helped out the community, and so I feel like we're obligated to help them get rid of this burden that they've taken on," he said.