Beached barge cleanup costs reach $5.3 million

Contractors have yet to formulate plan to remove Davy Crockett from Columbia

By Erik Robinson, Columbian staff writer

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Contractors have rung up $5.3 million in costs for the beached and broken barge Davy Crockett, as of the end of last week.

And that’s before they’ve even formulated a plan for removing the 431-foot derelict from the north bank of the Columbia River between Vancouver and Camas.

Workers have cleared away enough debris that divers were able to safely access fuel tanks at the bottom of the vessel. They found what was described as remnant amounts of heavy bunker fuel, which has the consistency of peanut butter.

“We did find some bunker fuel remaining in the tanks,” said Jim Sachet, cleanup coordinator for the Washington Department of Ecology.

Samples of the fuel confirmed assumptions that the material contained no heavy metals or polychlorinated biphenyls. Trace levels of PCBs were previously discovered leaking into the river. The substance, a suspected carcinogen, was discovered in samples of lubricating oils onboard the barge, which was originally built as a World War II freighter.

Contractors had removed 524,480 pounds of debris as of Friday. They had also recovered 5,701 gallons of oil-water mixture.

Thousand of feet of floating oil-absorbent booms have been deployed around the vessel and downriver.

On Friday and Saturday, workers deployed additional booms in three locations to protect what Sachet described as culturally sensitive areas as far as 2.8 miles downriver from the Davy Crockett. He was not specific about the cultural resources, but noted that the unified command structure has been in contact with seven American Indian tribes.

State authorities have attributed the state of the Davy Crockett 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.

Last month, the U.S. Coast Guard agreed to dismantle and remove the vessel from state-owned aquatic land.

State spill response specialists tracked a 15-mile-long sheen of PCB-tainted oil to the Davy Crockett on Jan. 27, just three days after the Coast Guard assumed Simpson had complied with an order to remove hazardous materials onboard the vessel.

The cleanup is being funded by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a federal fund created by a tax on petroleum products.