Editorial: Time for all shippers to pay for the Neah Bay tug

03-11-09 – Seattle Times

The Washington Legislature should enact a law to have shippers pay to keep the Neah Bay rescue tug available to help ships in trouble on the state’s outer coastline and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Spread the costs within the industry. Taxpayers have paid the bill since 1999.

TWO pieces of legislation look to the whole shipping industry — not just oil carriers — to provide stable funding for a rescue tug at Neah Bay. It is about time.

The state has paid since 1999, but now it is wholly appropriate to spread the costs of protecting Washington’s outer coastline and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As the debate continued in Olympia, a 541-foot grain ship radioed for assistance on Monday, the 42nd time the rescue tug had been called into action.

Stable funding for rescue tugs is the key to protecting valuable fisheries and shellfish harvests, and equally abundant Puget Sound recreational activities and tourism. Tug coverage has ebbed and flowed with state budgets — it has been winter-only and year-round.

Gov. Christine Gregoire included $3.6 million in her budget for another year of the tug through June 30, 2010. That is when the legislation would have the shipping industry step up. Hold it accountable.

The House and Senate measures leave it to the industry to assign costs. Some 2,400 to 3,000 ships annually traverse the waterway, a mix of oil tankers, cargo ships, giant fish-processing vessels, cruise lines and oil barges.

The oil tankers might be carrying 40 million gallons, but large ships can carry up to 2 million gallons of their own diesel fuel. The grain ship that needed help has a fuel capacity of 474,222 gallons.

The state Department of Ecology recently revised and increased its own formulas for calculating oil-spill damages. Individuals or companies who foul state waterways — lakes, ponds, wetlands, groundwater, storm drains, ditches or other state waters — are subject to a fine for the spill and the state’s costs for cleanup.

Polluters also pay compensation to the public for the harm to the environment. Ecology’s new rule doubles the compensation range from $1 to $50 per gallon to $1 to $100 per gallon. The vast cost of a ship running aground with an epic loss of its own diesel fuel or petroleum cargo is beyond calculation. Environmental losses in a pristine setting are equally difficult to reduce to dollars and cents.

The Neah Bay tug is smart insurance, and immeasurably cheaper spread across an industry than one shipper absorbing the cost of an environmental catastrophe.

~ by fredfelleman on March 11, 2009.

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