Bay needs a full-time tug

12/10/07 Olympian EDITORIAL

All but lost in the rush of news from last week’s devastating wind and rain
storm was the rescue last Monday of a disabled, 720-foot container vessel
off the coast of Washington near Cape Flattery.

For the 35th time since the spring of 1999, a rescue tug stationed at Neah
Bay came to the aid of a ship transporting cargo or oil along the coast or
through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

In the most recent case, a huge ocean wave smashed out the wheelhouse
windows of the Kauai. The damage knocked out the ship’s primary steering
system and crippled the ship’s electronics system.

The rescue tug Gladiator came to the ship’s aid, thanks to a $1.45-million
contract the state has with Crowley Maritime Corp. to station the rescue tug
at Neah Bay from Oct. 1, 2007 through mid-March 2008.

Think of the tug as the first line of defense against a potentially
catastrophic oil spill, if one of the thousands of container ships, oil
tankers or fishing vessels that ply the waters of Puget Sound, the Strait of
Juan de Fuca and the Washington coast were to become disabled and drift into
the rocks or run aground, spilling oil.

But there remains a huge hole in that oil spill safety net because the
protection is only seasonal, not year-round.

The rescue tug arrangement is akin to a part-time flood insurance policy,
only good if the flood occurs in the six months the policy is in place.

That’s just too big of a gamble to take with the precious marine waters and
marine resources of this state.

On Monday, the citizens of this state dodged another bullet and averted
another potential oil spill. But it’s time to stop playing Russian roulette
with our state’s oil spill prevention program.

For several years, the state Legislature has failed to approve a funding
package to assure the rescue tug is available at Neah Bay all year long. The
state keeps turning to the federal government to help pick up the nearly
$9,000-per-day cost of keeping the rescue tug on alert.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. and chair of a Senate subcommittee that
oversees U.S. Coast Guard operations, has proposed just such a federal
legislative remedy through reauthorization of the federal Oil Pollution Act
of 1990, which was passed shortly after the tragic Exxon Valdez oil spill in

Cantwell’s Oil Pollution Prevention and Response Act is scheduled for a
hearing in the Senate next week.

One of the provisions of the bill would beef up oil spill prevention
activities off the outer coast and Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The U.S. Coast Guard has the primary responsibility for marine safety,
including protection against oil spills. Congress needs to step up to the
funding task at hand to make a sure a rescue tug has a full-time presence at
Neah Bay.

~ by fredfelleman on December 10, 2007.

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