(WSVN) - The governor himself is weighing in on a less talked about aspect of the migrant crisis: who is responsible for the costly cleanups of boats left behind on private property? Investigative reporter Karen Hensel first highlighted the issue and is at the newsdesk with an update.

The morning after our story aired, we got a call from the governor’s office, and then one couple in the Keys quickly got a call from the state.

From Fort Lauderdale Beach to Virginia Key and the Florida Keys, the surge of migrants arriving on South Florida shores continues.

The humanitarian crisis is also raising a new question first exposed by 7 Investigates: Who is responsible for removing migrant boats abandoned on private property?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: “There are vessels left everywhere– on people’s property and all this.”

Thursday, DeSantis directly responded to the issue we brought to light, saying the state will now be footing the bill.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: “We are going to clear the vessels free of charge for those residents because it wasn’t their fault. Maybe we’ll send the bill to Biden. We’ll see.”

The governor’s remarks follow our Tuesday story with Jack and Sue Bartkus, who live in the small city of Key Colony Beach, near Marathon.

Sue Bartkus: “My granddaughter came running upstairs and said, ‘Did you see what’s out in front?'”

Early last week, a makeshift migrant boat ended up on their property.

Jack Bartkus: “And the police then told me that they thought there would be about 20 people that rode on this boat from Cuba, and they took the people into custody, and they didn’t do anything with the boat. They left it here, and they just discarded it, so it became my problem.”

A December letter from Key Colony Beach officials to residents said in part, “If any vessel ends up on your private property [it] becomes your problem. This rule of law is both inconvenient and a bit expensive, but it is the law.”

Jack Bartkus: “It’s unfair. Totally unfair, but of course, now the cost of all of this is on me.”

The Keys couple paid $2500 to have the boat towed.

Sue Bartkus: “It’s a very frustrating situation.”

But frustration has now turned into payback.

The day after our story aired, the couple received a call from state officials, then a check from the towing company. The memo line reads: “refunded by state.”

Jack Bartkus: “The owner showed up, and he handed me a check for $2500, and he says, ‘I don’t know how you did this but congratulations,’ and I just say, ‘Thank you, Governor DeSantis.'”

Also after our report, he Florida Division Of Emergency Management sent a tweet saying because of the governor’s recent executive order saying property owners “are not responsible” for abandoned migrant vessels and the state will remove them for free.

Sue Bartkus: “I’m grateful that the governor’s office stepped up and did something. I just hope they recognize this is a continuing problem. For you to be responsible for something you have no control over just seems ridiculous.”

The migrant surge is among issues expected to be discussed when a U.S. delegation travels there later this month.

A growing number of Cubans arriving by sea and at the U.S./Mexican border has put political pressure on President Biden to restart talks with the Cuban government.


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