The owner of a derelict Columbia River barge that leaked oil near Camas and triggered a $20 million cleanup pleaded not guilty on Friday to two violations of the Clean Water Act.
Davy Crockett owner Bret Simpson, of Ellensburg, was arraigned in federal court in Tacoma on felony charges of unlawful discharge and failure to report. If convicted, Simpson faces up to five years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
The case is set to go to trial Dec. 12.
Federal prosecutors allege that after buying the 430-foot barge in 2010, Simpson attempted to scrap the vessel without first removing thousands of gallons of oil and fuel he knew was on board. The converted World War II Liberty Ship began to break apart in early December, leaking oil into the Columbia River, according to the indictment filed last month.
Leak not reported
Simpson, who owns Principle Metals LLC, halted the scrapping operation, according to the indictment, but never reported the leak to authorities. The vessel eventually buckled even more, partially sank and led to a $20 million cleanup and dismantling led by the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies. That effort continues to wind down, paid for by the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
Simpson has not been in custody since the indictment and was released following Friday’s court hearing, according to Emily Langlie, public affairs officer with the U.S. Attorney’s Western Washington District. Simpson will be represented by a public defender, she said.
Court records show that Simpson filed individually for bankruptcy in 2008, listing more than $1.6 million in total debt — much of it business-related — to numerous creditors. He reported just greater than $2,000 in personal assets, and slightly less than $3,000 in monthly income, according to court records.
The Davy Crockett case isn’t the first time Simpson has run afoul of environmental law, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1998, Simpson pleaded guilty to illegally disposing of hazardous waste near Kittitas in Central Washington, EPA spokesman Mark MacIntyre confirmed.
Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; www.twitter.com/col_enviro; firstname.lastname@example.org.