State Fines Tug Boat Company
by Erik Olson
A Tacoma-based tug boat company must pay a $21,000 state fine for releasing 150 gallons of oil into the Columbia River near Willow Grove a year ago, according to the state Department of Ecology.
Ecology investigators matched samples from the spill of diesel and lubricating oils Jan. 29, 2009, to the tug Black Hawk, which is owned by Tacoma-based Sound Freight Lines, agency officials said.
However, Sound Freight's attorney said the company does not believe the Black Hawk was the source of the oil spill.
"We do not see how it came from our vessel, and we do not see it coming from our vessel," Brien Flanagan of Portland-based Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt said Thursday.
The morning spill was not reported until the middle of the day, when river observers saw a sheen on the water and called the state and the Coast Guard, according to Ecology. By then, the spill had dissipated too much for spill investigators to do much more than collect samples, according to Ecology.
The 150 gallons of oil was mixed in with a larger volume of bilge water released from the tug, according to Ecology. Bilge water is water that seeps into the bottom of a ship's hull and gets fouled by fuel, grease and other contaminants. In addition to the fine, Ecology also ordered Sound Freight Lines to reimburse the state $12,600 for the cost of the response.
Ecology investigators said they collected samples from every ship on the Columbia that day and determined the oil came from the Black Hawk. State law forbids the unauthorized discharge of oil in rivers and streams. Also, Sound Freight did not respond to the spill, a violation of the law, Ecology officials said.
"In general, the shipping industry is very careful in handling fuel, lube oil and bilge slops on the Columbia River and Puget Sound. This incident involving the Black Hawk was avoidable and should not have happened," Jim Sachet, Ecology's spill response manager for the Southwest Region, said in a written statement.
Sound Freight Lines has 30 days to appeal the penalty with the state Pollution Control Hearings Board or file an application for relief before the full amount is due.
Flanagan said the company is working with Ecology and is evaluating whether to contest the fine.
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