Hurricane Sandy petered out over the East Coast almost exactly three years ago. The storm left chaos in its wake—and in some cases, that chaos is still floating in its waterways, says the New York Times.

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The Times’ report details how some 600 abandoned boats are clogging waterways around NYC, many left over from Sandy. The main reason they haven’t been removed is because there’s no clear regulatory framework for who is responsible for the abandoned boats—and no clear framework for who has the right to remove them.

Corey Kilgannon describes the plight of this “watery graveyard,” talking with conservation groups who have struggled to get a handle on the problem. John Lipscomb, who works for a group called Riverkeeper, explains:

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“It’s a regulatory no man’s land: No one wants to deal with these boats, and there hasn’t been an easy way to get any of the regulating agencies to pay attention to them,” Mr. Lipscomb said. “The problem is, these boats are mostly fiberglass, and in the old days, a wooden boat would rot away.” Fiberglass boats, he added, endure “for the rest of time.”

Another big problem: People buy boats and end up not being able to afford them. This subsection of the population is hip to the regulatory snarl described above—and they’re exploiting it to avoid having to deal with their damn boats. Kilgannon explains:

The recession has contributed to the problem. Boaters who do not have the money for dock fees, maintenance and gas, and face a poor resale market and expensive disposal costs, can simply remove the state registration and hull identification numbers to make the boat untraceable and then leave it at a dock or along a shoreline.

It’s an interesting counterpoint to the way we normally think about the reclamation of urban waterways these days—while plenty of organizations exist to help advocate for the cleaning and maintenance of the rivers and harbors, there isn’t always enough money or even a legal framework for it. And people still pollute—either intentionally or due to storms like Sandy.

Navy ships in the Hudson River (background), 1945. AP Photo/John Lindsay; Anti-pollution equipment in the East River, an attempt to clean up the rupture of a 300-foot tank barge that spilled 1,650 gallons of diesel into the river in 1970. AP Photo/JW.

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It’s also a reminder that it’s only been 40 or so years since New York—and most other American cities—started cleaning up its rivers in earnest. For centuries before that, garbage, pollution, and shipwrecks clogged these waterways, and as the report demonstrates, some of that old world still exists.

[New York Times; h/t Next City]

Lead image of a boat being retrieved in New Jersey after it was sunk during Sandy, from 2013, by AP Photo/Wayne Parry


Contact the author at kelsey@Gizmodo.com.