Wayward houseboat saga grows more murky

Just who owns floating home on Lake River is in question

By Erik Robinson, Columbian staff writer

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A wayward houseboat remained intact and afloat near the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday, but the fate of a sunken cruiser alongside the houseboat appeared bleak.

Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Fred Neiman said the houseboat appeared to be in good condition.

“We’ll certainly work with them to get it into the moorage,” he said. “If we can get it resolved without clogging up the court system, that’ll be better for everybody.”

Lance Balderree towed the houseboat upstream as he was in the process of being evicted from McCuddy’s Ridgefield Marina. Balderree was locked in a dispute with the marina over back-due moorage fees.

Ownership and control of the houseboat remains somewhat murky.

County property records list the houseboat’s owner as William and Genevieve Traub. The eviction notice filed in Clark County Superior Court lists the Traubs, along with Lance Balderree and his brother, Robert Balderree.

Genevieve Traub declined to comment when contacted by The Columbian on Wednesday.

Sheriff’s deputies and state environmental regulators have been dealing with Lance Balderree as the assumed owner of the houseboat and the now-sunken 32-foot cruiser alongside.

“No one that I’m aware of has come forward saying, ‘My house is missing,’” Neiman said.

Jane Chavey, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said whoever is responsible for the houseboat has until April 5 to move it. At that point, she said, the DNR can begin charging a lease for unauthorized use and occupancy. The rate would be 60 percent above fair market value of a moorage, providing a firm incentive to haul the houseboat to a sanctioned marina. In the meantime, state officials said Balderree has assured them that the houseboat will remain unoccupied.

The now-sunken cruiser could remain on the Lake River bottom indefinitely.

State officials said it doesn’t appear to pose an immediate threat to the environment and it’s located outside the navigation channel. The U.S. Coast Guard hired a contractor to remove oil and other hazardous materials when the vessel began foundering on Friday.

“Anything on it would just be residual right now,” said Laura Sauermilch, a spill-response specialist for the state Department of Ecology.

The boat would qualify for removal under the DNR’s derelict vessel program. However, demands on the program exceed its $1.7 million budget. Chavey said the agency would have to determine how the cost of removing this vessel stacks up against other priorities around the state.