The Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that Bret Simpson, owner of Ellensburg, Wash-based Principle Metals LLC, has been sentenced to four months in prison, eight months of home detention, 100 hours of community service and three years of supervised as a result of violations to the Clean Water Act.
In July 2012 Simpson entered guilty pleas to two criminal violations of the Clean Water Act for failing to report an oil discharge and unlawfully discharging oil into the Columbia River near Camas, Wash.
“This defendant’s singular focus on maximizing his profits at the expense of even minimal environmental safeguards, cost taxpayers millions of dollars,” U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan says. “Mr. Simpson exhibited no regard for the likelihood that his misguided salvage efforts could, and in fact did, lead to an environmental emergency that was only partially averted by a massive federal and state response.”
The “M/V Davy Crockett” was a former U.S. Navy ship that was converted to a flat deck barge. Simpson’s company planned to cut the barge apart to sell the metal for scrap. Simpson assembled a crew to begin dismantling the M/V Davy Crockett at its place of moorage in the Columbia River in October 2010, according to the DOJ, which adds that Simpson made no arrangements to remove the fuel oil and diesel fuel from the vessel before the scrapping operation began.
According to the DOJ, through his guilty plea, Simpson admitted that he was informed about oil left on the Davy Crockett barge before he ordered salvage operations to begin. However, Simpson failed to have the oil removed before workers started cutting up the metal barge, the DOJ says. When the first oil spill occurred in early December 2010, Simpson failed to notify authorities and failed to take adequate steps to monitor the vessel or protect it from natural forces and further structural damage, the DOJ says.
Subsequent spills in January 2011 led U.S. Coast Guard investigators to identify the Davy Crockett as the source of the spills and to initiate a federally funded cleanup effort. Ultimately, the U.S. Coast Guard and state authorities spent eight months and about $22 million to clean up the spill and to remove the derelict barge from the river, the DOJ reports.
Dec. 1, 2010, a member of Simpson’s scrapping crew cut into a structural beam of the barge, and the ship began breaking apart and leaking oil. Neither Simpson nor anyone else with Principle Metals LLC notified authorities about the leak, according to the DOJ. The scrapping operation was halted.
Simpson initially addressed the oil release by ceasing all scrapping operations, procuring a boom to limit the release of oil into the Columbia River and directing an employee to monitor vessel conditions, according to the DOJ. The employee monitored vessel conditions for about one week following the initial release before being relieved of his employment. Simpson took neither further steps to monitor the ship, or the boom, nor to protect the barge from further structural damage, the DOJ alleges.
Jan. 19, 2011, an accumulation of debris next to the barge forced it to move, and additional oil was released. The Coast Guard responded to the additional movement of the barge and issued an administrative order for Simpson to remove any remaining visible oil from machinery spaces and deck tubes together with other salvage debris from the vessel. Simpson complied, and authorities said they believed the barge no longer posed an environmental danger. However, Jan. 27, 2011, additional oil was released from the vessel, and state and federal authorities responded in an effort to limit environmental damage, the DOJ reports.