Coast Guard vows to dismantle, remove languishing barge
Originally published February 17, 2011 at 2:06 p.m., updated February 17, 2011 at 7:16 p.m.
The U.S. Coast Guard will step in to dismantle and remove the beached and broken barge Davy Crockett, now languishing on the north bank of the Columbia River between Vancouver and Camas.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said she was pleased by the Coast Guard’s announcement on Thursday.
“The issue remains of how we improve the monitoring and management of large derelict vessels so that we avoid these types of costly and intensive response efforts in the future,” Gregoire said in a prepared statement.
State authorities have attributed the sad state of the 431-foot converted barge — beached, broken and leaching PCB-tainted oil into the river — to owner Brett Simpson of Ellensburg. They said an apparent effort to scrap the vessel while it was afloat weakened the Crockett to the point that its midsection buckled and sank.
The Coast Guard reported it had already removed 200,595 pounds of debris — mainly metal scrap — since the response was federalized on Jan. 27.
The agency has already rung up a sizable bill.
The agency has so far obligated $3.4 million in funding from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, and now plans to tap even more money from the fund to implement a removal and destruction plan. The ceiling has been raised to $4.5 million as of Thursday, Coast Guard Petty Officer Eric Chandler said.
“The ceiling is raised as needed,” Chandler said.
The operation may need quite a bit, although Coast Guard officials said the agency is still developing a removal plan with an estimated cost and time frame.
“Safety and environmental protection measures will remain paramount throughout all operations as we move forward to remove the vessel from the Columbia River,” Coast Guard Capt. Daniel LeBlanc said in a prepared statement.
The Coast Guard doesn’t usually step in to dismantle derelict vessels.
“Typically, the Coast Guard is not in the position to remove derelict vessels unless they’re in a navigable waterway,” Coast Guard Lt. Charles Taylor said Thursday. “We would normally just move them out of the navigable waterway. We’re not in the business of dismantling ships, although we are in the business of protecting the marine environment.”
The ship now rests on state-owned aquatic land.
Taylor said that federal investigators are conducting a criminal investigation into the actions that led to the ship’s sinking.
The World War II-era ship had been moored on the Columbia since 1993.
After years of neglect and disuse, the ship appeared to have had only one redeeming value: Its raw metal shell. Now, contractors are carefully stabilizing the ship and removing obstructions while they assess environmental hazards.
“We have a strong suspicion the bottom area has oil,” said Kim Schmanke, spokeswoman for the state Department of Ecology. “Oil is the chief concern for us.”
Other pollutants believed to be aboard the ship include PCBs, chlorinated solvents, asbestos and lead-based paint. Making a complete assessment of the hazards, and obtaining the permits required to safely and lawfully remove them, will be among the joint task force’s duties, Schmanke said.
Adm. Robert Papp, the Coast Guard’s commandant in Washington, D.C., cited the ongoing environmental threat in formally authorizing the dismantling and removal of the Davy Crockett.
“I agree that destruction of this vessel is appropriate to mitigate the threat of continued discharge of oil, oily water mixtures, and hazardous substances into the waterway,” Papp wrote.
Erik Robinson: 360-735-4551, or firstname.lastname@example.org.