Crews remove last traces of Davy Crockett cleanup

‘It looks like the river’ after broken barge, equipment are gone

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter


Updated: November 22, 2011, 8:05 PM



• December 2010: The 430-foot barge Davy Crockett, sitting on the Columbia River near Camas, begins breaking apart and leaking oil as owner Bret Simpson attempts to scrap it.

• January 2011: The barge buckles even more, causing additional oil and debris to leak into the river.

• Jan. 27: The U.S. Coast Guard steps in and federalizes the response to the spill.

• Feb. 16: The Coast Guard authorizes removal and destruction of the vessel.

• March 24: Unable to move the vessel out of the water, officials decide to break the barge down piece by piece where it sits.

• April 18: Crews finish building a metal cofferdam around the barge to contain oil and other pollutants.

• May 25: Asbestos removal is completed.

• Aug. 25: Crews remove the final large piece of the vessel itself.

• Sept. 29: Simpson is charged with two felony violations of the Clean Water Act as a result of the mess.

• Oct. 14: Simpson pleads not guilty to the two charges in federal court in Tacoma.

• Nov. 17: The final section of the cofferdam is removed from the site, effectively completing the nearly 10-month cleanup at a cost of more than $22 million.

Nearly 10 months after it started, the cleanup of the broken barge Davy Crockett is unequivocally done.

The vessel itself long gone, crews late last week finished taking apart the metal barrier that surrounded the ship and contained pollutants that leaked from it during the dismantling. Salvage equipment has since been moved off the work site.

No visible sign remains of the former fixture on the Columbia River near Camas — or its messy demise.

“By all reports, it looks like the river with no Davy Crockett and no cofferdam,” said Jim Sachet, manager of the Washington State Department of Ecology’s regional spill response team.

The cleanup’s total cost: Now $22 million, paid for by the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. But that doesn’t include an additional $500,000 to $750,000 the state paid for treatment of contaminated water and other expenses, Sachet said.

The 430-foot Davy Crockett, a converted World War II-era Liberty Ship, first started to break apart and leak oil in December when owner Bret Simpson of Ellensburg attempted to scrap the vessel. The barge buckled even more in January, causing it to partially sink and release additional oil and debris into the Columbia River.

The U.S. Coast Guard then stepped in and federalized the response to the spill, coordinating with the Washington State Department of Ecology and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Lead contractor Ballard Diving & Salvage took on the complex cleanup job, dismantling the hulk piece by piece where it sat in the river.

Crews pulled the final large piece of the vessel itself out of the water in August. Then came the process of cleaning out contaminated sediment and pollution inside the cofferdam.

Workers dredged the bottom of the river after the boat was gone, pulling out 89 cubic yards of contaminated sediment, according to Ballard salvage master Troy Nylander. They also removed junk debris — including ladders and tires — that likely accumulated on the defunct barge over the years, said Ballard spokesman Eric Muller.

When that was done, workers began to take apart the cofferdam. The final section came out Thursday.

The milestone completes a lengthy endeavor that produced eye-catching numbers besides its cost. Workers removed almost 4.5 million pounds of steel as the vessel was taken apart. They recovered more than 33,000 gallons of bunker oil, and took out well over 800,000 pounds of debris as of the end of October, according to the ecology department.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Shawn Eggert called it a job well done.

“I think the Coast Guard overall is pleased with how things went,” Eggert said. “We did something that’s never been done before on the Columbia River, and it’s been rarely attempted in other cases.”

Perhaps most importantly, Eggert said, the entire job was completed without a single injury.

Sachet echoed that sentiment.

“I think we did a good job,” he said. “But I’m really glad it’s over with.”

The only comparable incident in Washington history might be the S.S. Catala, Sachet said, referring to an old shipwreck removed from the beach near Ocean Shores in 2006 after oil was discovered inside. That maritime cleanup cost $7.2 million — at the time, the most expensive in state history. In the end, the Davy Crockett cleanup more than tripled that total.

Simpson, the Crockett’s owner, was charged with two felony violations of the Clean Water Act. He pleaded not guilty to both counts last month.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541;;