Corps of Engineers Cited
by Barbara LaBoe
The state has cited -- but not fined --- the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for waiting nearly 90 minutes before telling the state of a 50-gallon oil spill in the Columbia River near Ilwaco.
Corps officials, however, said they followed their mandated requirements and are disappointed with the citation.
The spill of hydraulic oil happened Oct. 17 when a dredge pump seal failed as the ocean-going dredge Essayons neared Ilwaco.
A private vessel could have been fined up to $10,000, but the state Department of Ecology is not allowed to fine federal agencies, said spokeswoman Sandy Howard.
The Corps has 30 days to tell Ecology how it will prevent future oil spills and provide timely notification of spills.
Washington emergency management didn't learn of the spill for nearly 90 minutes. No cleanup was conducted because the oil got away in the rough seas, Howard said.
Ecology's records show the Essayons suffered four previous oil spills dating back to 2002. Two of the spills went into the Columbia River -- 10 gallons in July of 2005 and 25 gallons in August of 2003 -- and two were "on deck" spills.
Corps officials said they've already made improvements to the ship, including a $65,000 redesign of the oil seal to provide secondary containment.
And, they said the captain's first responsibility with any spill is to ensure the safety of his vessel and his crew and then to work to stop the leak as quickly as possible. Corps vessels also are required to first notify the National Response Center operated by the Coast Guard of any spills, which the Essayons crew did within 58 minutes, said Matt Rabe, spokesman for the Corps' Portland District.
Answering the NRC's questions took about 20 minutes, after which the state was notified as a courtesy, Rabe said.
"We understand the state's interest in immediate notification, and we do the best we can to get in touch with them as quickly as possible. But at all times the skipper is going to make his first priority his ship and his crew and to do the best we can to stop the oil," Rabe said.
"We would think the state would commend us for that focus but instead they claim we waited which makes us look bad. We've been working real hard to improve our relations with Ecology, but alas."
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