Cleanup of Derelict Barge Davy Crockett on Columbia River
by Scott Learn
CAMAS, Wash. -- The derelict barge Davy Crockett is now out of the Columbia River -- seven months and $20 million after it first cracked open and sent toxic pollution downstream.
U.S. Coast Guard contractors lifted the final rusty slice of the barge out of the river Thursday.
As it rose, it dripped bunker oil into water sequestered inside a cofferdam built to contain pollution released from the in-river salvage operation.
No pollution leaked from the cofferdam, a steel wall lined with a water- and oil-proof membrane, during the salvage operation, Oregon and Washington environmental officials said.
Contractors still have to scrape an estimated 150 cubic yards of sediment contaminated with PCBs, lead and oil from the bottom of the cofferdam before dismantling it.
"But the pollution threat has ended from the Davy Crockett," said Ron Holcomb of Washington's Department of Ecology.
The 431-foot barge, a converted Liberty ship from World War II, buckled in half in January as owner Bret Simpson of Ellensburg, Wash., removed parts for scrap.
The ship leaked lubricating oil, fuel oil and some diesel at unknown volumes into the river, including small amounts of toxic PCBs.
Coast Guard and state officials initially planned to tow the barge to a shipyard for dismantling, which would have meant lower costs. But shipyards balked at the environmental liability.
Instead, contractor Ballard Diving & Salvage spent four months installing the cofferdam and cutting apart the ship. Workers lifted the pieces by crane, cleaned them on a separate barge, then sent them to Schnitzer Steel and an Astoria salvage yard for recycling.
The underwater cutting required magnesium burning rods. Divers burnt through 24,000 rods on the job and made 26,000 linear feet of cuts, Ballard officials said.
To date, crews have recovered 4.4 million pounds of steel, along with 33,000 gallons of bunker oil, 1.6 million gallons of oil-water mixture and 4,850 pounds of asbestos.
The waste is going to landfills or industries for disposal or reprocessing; a small amount of PCB contaminated oil was sent to a hazardous waste disposal plant, officials said.
No significant injuries occurred during the complex salvage effort, officials said. Challenges during the project included underwater visibility of less than a foot at times and high water in May and June that slightly overtopped the cofferdam.
The spill sparked questions about other derelict vessels in the Northwest. The Davy Crockett had been moored for years between Camas and Vancouver on the north side of the Columbia, four miles upstream of the I-205 bridge.
Capt. Daniel LeBlanc, the Coast Guard's incident commander, said a task force established after the spill has identified 20 large inactive vessels -- at least 200 feet long -- moored along the Columbia, the Willamette River and the coast.
The Coast Guard will contact owners and request a review of the ships to make sure they don't pose an environmental hazard, LeBlanc said. If owners refuse, the Coast Guard does have authority to board the ships, he said.
The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which collects a nickel tax on each barrel of oil produced in or imported into in the United States, will cover the costs.
Fund officials pursue vessel owners for cost recovery, though its unclear whether Simpson or prior owners have the resources to pay for the job.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for western Washington is investigating the case. Spokeswoman Emily Langlie said the office's environmental unit is "continuing to examine the circumstances surrounding the spill to see if criminal charges are appropriate."
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