Washington DOE Fines Principle Metals over Leaks on the Columbia River

Spill occurred during the company’s illegal in-water scrapping operation.

February 4, 2013
Recycling Today Staff
Legislation & Regulations

The Washington Department of Ecology (DoE) has fined Bret Simpson and his company Principle Metals LLC $405,000 for spilling oil and 40 days of ongoing environmental harm from continuing oil leaks to the Columbia River from the 431-foot derelict barge Davy Crockett.

According to the DoE, the 2011 spill occurred during the company’s illegal in-water scrapping operation, and it prompted a 295-day, multi-state, multi-agency response that cost taxpayers $22 million in federal funds and more than $680,000 in state monies.

For a 10-month span from January through November 2011, the DoE, U.S. Coast Guard and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality jointly worked to prevent a catastrophic release of oil and other hazardous materials aboard derelict barge. Responders had to first stabilize the broken vessel to alleviate the risk to structures and other vessels downriver, then contain, remove and dispose of the vessel. Eventually, responders removed about 38,000 gallons of oil from the barge.

According to a DoE release, before the agencies could dismantle and remove the partially sunken barge, state and federal responders had to construct an 850-linear-foot cofferdam to keep the river from being further contaminated by oil and other pollutants on board the vessel.

Simpson offered no assistance or cooperation in the response, cleanup or scrapping of the Davy Crockett. On July 12, 2012, Simpson pleaded guilty to two criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

“Responding to the Davy Crockett was complex, time-consuming and costly,” says Dale Jensen, the DoE’s spills program manager. “This incident was illegal and completely preventable – and the resulting spill harmed the Columbia River ecosystem. Had Mr. Simpson or his company sought a permit to dismantle the Davy Crockett in water, we would have refused. He would have been directed to do the work in a permitted shipyard to protect our waters. Instead, he began scrapping the barge without the benefit of any professional advice. By the time he broke the barge in half, the damage was done.”

According to the Washington Department of Natural Resources, there are estimated 230 derelict vessels in Washington.

“Our top priority is always to prevent spills from occurring, because the moment oil hits water it begins causing damage. The new task force is an important step forward in prevention efforts. When negligent spills occur, we must hold those responsible accountable. That’s the law, and it’s also the right thing to do,” Jensen says.

Uncontrolled oil and hazardous materials from the Davy Crockett posed a direct risk to the environment until the last piece of the barge was removed Aug. 25, 2011.

In setting the penalty amount for the Davy Crockett spill, Ecology determined the following:
•    The spill was caused by Simpson’s negligence.
•    He failed to notify state authorities of the spill.
•    He allowed oil to spill to state waters – 70 gallons was initially documented but more than 5,700 gallons are unaccounted for.
•    There were 40 days of confirmed oil discharges from the barge, from Jan. 27 through April 2011, until the coffer dam was constructed.
•    Simpson had a previous history of environmental violations.