- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

BEDFORD, Va. (AP) — A rotting houseboat that landed its owner in jail has been hauled away from Smith Mountain Lake.

Workers using an excavator and two cranes pulled the 1975 Stardust Cruiser houseboat out of the water Saturday, to the relief of area residents.

“That whole place was a mess down there,” Napier Dills said. “The residents were fussing about it, asking, ‘Why is someone allowed to have junk on the lake?’ ”

The boat sat for several years in front of George Orr’s waterfront property, despite several warnings to Karen Foster Cunningham to remove it. Last year, a Virginia game warden charged her with illegal dumping.

After serving two jail sentences totaling slightly more than two weeks and facing an 11-month sentence if she did not have the boat removed, Mrs. Cunningham said she had to mortgage her house to come up with $7,000 to get the job done.

“I never dreamed that anyone would ever go to jail over a sunken boat,” said Mrs. Cunningham, who lives in Lynchburg.

Although the court has established that Mrs. Cunningham is the boat’s owner, she said she has been wronged and that the boat belongs to her ex-husband.

“The game warden and the court deserve a lot of credit for resolving this problem,” said real estate broker Norm Mattson, who is also a resident of the lake area. “Hopefully, other people on the lake will learn … that neglecting one’s responsibility doesn’t make it any easier.”

Mr. Mattson said he had been having trouble selling Mr. Orr’s property — listed for $695,000 — because the vessel was unsightly and impeded people’s use of the dock. Other neighbors have complained about pollution caused by oil leaking from the boat and pieces of debris that have been blown off it by high winds.

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