TAMPA ― Even the commute across the northbound Howard Frankland Bridge has become politicized.
Drivers entering Tampa are now being greeted with this political message: “Trump=Evil.”
The words were painted in bright red along the side of a derelict boat that was abandoned in the shallow waters off the bridge about nine months ago. It is the latest indignity for the Moonraker II, a white fishing boat that has been left to deteriorate behind the docks and backyards of the homes off Mariner Street.
“Once people start using it for political stuff, that’s really low,” said Arnold Hubbard, 61, who has long complained about the boat because it poses an environmental hazard and because it obscures the view from his private dock on Mariner Street.
In recent months, vandals have boarded the vessel, kicked in the windows and stolen the bilge system and batteries. Algae climbed up the side of the boat as water seeped onto the deck.
Neighbors have been complaining about the ugly boat mucking up their waterfront views since November. It was left there by Joey Sirmans, a local tree trimmer, who says he was trying to move the boat when it ran into problems.
The state took Sirmans to court to get him to remove it, but he couldn’t afford the cost. In May, that responsibility was passed to Hillsborough County.
Months passed and the Moonraker II continued to languish as the wheels of bureaucracy slowly turned. The county had to compare costs from different salvage companies and request a grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to help cover the cost of removal, estimated to be about $10,000.
It’s unclear who spray-painted the boat, but officials said it’s removal is just around the corner ― sort of. The county expects the state to approve the grant any day now. The county will then have it removed in the coming weeks.
“As soon as we are able to do it, we will move forward,” said Hillsborough County manager of safety and special enforcement Robin Caton.
The county also plans to remove another, less infamous derelict boat southwest of Shell Point in Ruskin.
In the meantime, Mariner Street residents said they may take matters into their own hands.
"That’s gonna get painted, I’ll solve that problem,” said Hubbard.
Paint balloons, he said, might do the trick.