By Phuong Le Associated Press
SEATTLE — Washington state regulators on Monday fined the owner of a derelict barge for spilling oil into the Columbia River near Camas during an illegal salvage operation in 2011.
Bret Simpson and his company, Principle Metals LLC, were fined $405,000, after regulators found the spill was caused by Simpson’s negligence and that he failed to notify state authorities about the spill, the Department of Ecology said.
The spill took 10 months and $22 million in federal money and $680,000 in state money to clean up. The Coast Guard worked with Washington and Oregon agencies to stabilize the partially sunken barge, contain oil and other pollutants and remove it from the river in late August 2011.
A message left with one of Simpson’s attorneys, Russell Leonard, was not immediately returned Monday. A listed number for Simpson could not be found.
Simpson has 30 days to appeal the fine to a state board. He hasn’t indicated to state officials whether he plans to do that, Ecology officials said Monday.
The derelict barge called the Davy Crockett was a 431-foot-long converted World War II-era Navy ship.
According to federal prosecutors, Simpson bought the vessel, was told it had thousands of gallons of fuel oil and diesel but did not remove the oil before workers started cutting up the barge to sell the metal for scrap.
In January 2011, state regulators received reports of oil sheen on the Columbia River and traced it 11 miles upstream to the Davy Crockett. The vessel was partially sunk near the north shore between Vancouver and Camas.
“Had Mr. Simpson or his company sought a permit to dismantle the barge in water, we would have refused,” said Dale Jenson, Ecology’s spills program manager. He noted that such work would have been done in a permitted shipyard and added: “By the time he broke the barge in half, the damage was done.”
Last July, Simpson pleaded guilty in federal court in Tacoma for two criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act, including failing to report a discharge of oil and unlawfully discharging oil into the Columbia. His sentencing is set for March 18.
Before they could remove the barge from the Columbia River, state and federal officials built an 850-foot barrier, or a cofferdam, to contain oil and pollutants.
According to Ecology, about 70 gallons was initially documented but more than 5,700 gallons are unaccounted for. Officials eventually removed about 38,000 gallons of oil from the barge.
The incident led to the formation of a task force to deal with the derelict vessels on the Columbia River. That group has identified more than 50 vessels of concern in the lower Columbia and Willamette rivers.
There are estimated 230 derelict vessels in Washington.