Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Spill Log: Puget Sound spills cap off busy week, Partnership sounds alarm

By Curt Hart, Communications Manager, Spills Program

On Thursday October 13, I wrote a blog about the oil spill affecting New Zealand and how two recent incidents involving commercial vessels in Washington’s waters highlighted similar spill risks here.

Oil spill in West Seattle

Anyone who turned on their TV, radio, surfed the web, or read a newspaper last Friday October 14 probably heard about the vessel that sank in Puget Sound about 1.5 miles south of Alki Point in West Seattle.

The Justin, an old military landing craft that had been converted into a construction vessel, sank at about 7:30 a.m. in about 20 feet of water. Ecology and the Coast Guard are still investigating how much oil spilled to Puget Sound. We do know that there were 2 miles of nearby shoreline affected by the spill.

Late Saturday, the Justin was lifted from the water, placed on a barge, and taken to a shipyard in Tacoma. It will take some time before our investigation is complete about why the craft sank, how much spilled, lessons learned from the response, and it affected the environment.

Spills from vessels in Tacoma, Gig Harbor

Ecology also responded to two other vessel spills to Puget Sound on Saturday October 15 – about 100 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from fishing tender vessel in Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma and a smaller spill occurred when a construction barge sank in Gig Harbor.

While we issued media releases describing both spills, I must apologize. While covering media calls for the spill in West Seattle, I literally ran out of time to give the public an update about the barge spill in Gig Harbor. So quickly:
  • We estimate that less 25 gallons of diesel fuel was spilled in total.

  • The barge owner, Marine Floats, immediately notified state and federal authorities about the spill.

  • Marine Floats was able to pump the fuel remaining in the crane after the barge sank.

  • The company put out their own oil containment boom to contain the spill in the harbor.

  • Gig Harbor fire and police departments also put out 200 feet of boom Ecology provided in 2006.

  • By Sunday, the company had successfully refloated the barge and towed it to their yard in Tacoma.

During recovery operations, no more oil spilled.

Puget Sound Partnership calls for action

On Tuesday October 19, the Puget Sound Partnership issued an interesting press release about oil spill risks in Washington and how the Partnership plans to add their support to Ecology’s efforts. Partnership Executive Director Gerry O’Keefe said that “three serious oil spills and two close calls this past week sounded an alarm that showed how vulnerable Puget Sound is to a devastating environmental disaster.”

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and Martha Kongsgaard, who chairs the Partnership’s Leadership Council, jointed the call for action.

In the release, the Partnership announced they will be reconvening the Oil Spill Work Group to evaluate and make recommendations to reduce spill risks to our waters.

The Partnership also called on the Coast Guard to work with the state to assess the oil spill risks associated with the increasing maritime trade in the Puget Sound waters that we share with Canada.

“These close calls and other incidents are a wakeup call. Puget Sound can’t wait any longer, we must make additional progress now toward meeting the state’s zero oil spill goal,” Kongsgaard said.

Ecology looks forward to working with the Partnership’s Oil Spill Work Group and the Coast Guard to assess and reduce the oil spill risks we face every

Last week was very busy.

We’re grateful these strong community leaders have added their voices of support to help Washington make progress toward its goal of zero spills to our waters.

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