Sequim eyes tugboat for oil spills

1/26/09 Peninsula Daily News

By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News

NEAH BAY — Oil, cargo and cruise industries would pay for a tugboat at Neah Bay under a proposed bill in the state Legislature.

House Bill 1409 — which was introduced on Tuesday by 24th District Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim — also would extend the tugboat’s mission beyond rescue to also include responding to oil spills and save the state about $3.65 million a year, he said.

The tugboat would respond to oil spills by deploying booms and oil-spill skimmers and towing an oil recovery barge to store recovered oil.

Such tugboats are in “notoriously short supply,” the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said Saturday.

The amount shipping and cruise industries would pay for the tugboat would be based upon the “worst case spill potential” of their vessels that enter state waters, according to the bill.

The bill is co-sponsored by House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, who also represents the 24th District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.

A rescue tugboat is stationed at Neah Bay now.

It was funded part-time by state and federal money from 1999 until July 2008.

A full-time tugboat has been funded by the state since July, but securing that funding has been a constant issue even before the state began projecting a budget shortfall for the next two years that could reach $7 billion.

“We’ve had to fight for funding every year,” Van De Wege said.

“If this legislation passes, there will never be a fight over funding the tug.”

Van De Wege introduced a bill in 2007 that would have imposed a tax of 1 cent per barrel of crude oil received at a marine terminal in the state and a 4 cents per barrel oil spill administration tax to fund the tugboat.

That bill failed after opposition from oil company lobbyists.

The intent of the 2007 bill was to enact recommendations of a 2006 oil spill advisory council for preventing and responding to oil spills.

Van De Wege said that the current funding for the tugboat comes from about eight state accounts that include revenue from taxes on the oil industry.

But its extended mission would increase the cost of the tugboat to about $5.5 million.

Extending mission

“It’s definitely going to increase the cost,” said Frank Holmes, Western States Petroleum Association northwest region manager.

“There probably needs to be a lot more discussion on what is needed as far as the tug itself.”

Holmes said the association is supportive of the shipping and cruise companies that pass through the state waters paying for the tugboat, but he added that the cost would be passed on to consumers.

“Those costs have to be paid for by someone,” he said.

“The citizens of Washington are the ones that are the end user of [products] coming into the state.”

Holmes said a representative of the association will speak at a House Committee on Ecology and Parks hearing on the bill on Tuesday.

The bill has the support of the Makah tribe, which is concerned about protecting its fishing and cultural resources from an oil spill.

“We have a tremendous amount of marine transportation safety issues that affect our treaty rights and treaty-protected resources directly,” said Chad Bowechop, Makah marine affairs manager.

“This is a top priority for the Makah tribal council.”

Bowechop said that more than 3 million gallons of oil has spilled into the waters near the Makah reservation since 1972.

He said having a tugboat capable of responding to oil spills would be an asset to the health of the marine environment and the tribe.

“Having the tugboat here year-round is a benefit to all citizens of the state, not just exclusive to Makah tribal membership,” he said.

“Nobody wants an oil spill.”


Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at

~ by fredfelleman on January 28, 2009.

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