Who exactly should pay for the Neah Bay tug?

Don’t expect smooth sailing on funding for the Neah Bay tug.

When the governor signed the tug bill into law last week, Washington state finally had a permanent source of funding for the emergency-response vessel. The industry will have to pick up the tab after one more year.

It was welcome news for those who are concerned that our pristine shorelines along the Washington coast and Strait of Juan de Fuca could be despoiled by a major oil spill.

The state has been paying for the tug, though funding has always rested on the Legislature finding money in the budget. This year, the cost is about $3.7 million.

So, after the bill was signed, I decided to look at the next steps. What will it take for industry to set up the funding mechanism, and what problems do officials see?

It appears the legislation is throwing salt on some old wounds within sectors of the industry — primarily the oil shippers versus the cargo shippers. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

There are more cargo ships moving through our waters, and each one carries fuel, so should they anti-up the majority of the cost? On the other hand, the risk of a major oil spill is more likely among those shipping major amounts of oil, so should they bear the greater cost?

Throw in extra factors for ships with double engines and double rudders, which decreases the likelihood that they will become disabled. Consider problem ships not covered by the legislation. What you have is the basis for some tough negotiations to divide the cost among hundreds of ships that transit through Washington waters.

I guess nobody said it was going to be easy. Since industry was to pay the cost, the Legislature wanted to keep the heavy hand of government out of it, at least for now.

To review the tug bill, its summary, legislative analysis and other information, go to the Washington State Legislature’s bill page. Another interesting document is a summary of Vessel Entries and Transits for Washington Waters – 2007 (PDF 147 kb) published by the Washington Department of Ecology.

4 thoughts on “Who exactly should pay for the Neah Bay tug?

  1. If it is a state requirement then the state should pay for it. However, if the tug is needed for an emergency, then the ship receiving the services can pay a fee. Seems pretty simple to me.

  2. Thanks Chris, for a very good article that explains a key issue in the followup to this much needed bill. Of course, we all pay for oil spill prevention, whether up front, as tax payers (as we have been doing), as consumers (as we probably will as the costs will be passed along to us) or as taxpayers again as we end up cleaning up the oil that was spilled because we didn’t provide prevention (which is what Alaska ended up doing). Unfortunately, this is just one piece of the puzzle. More needs to be done. We could look at tractor tugs, and Canada still hasn’t ante’d up for their share of the ships, since they don’t protect the Straits either.

  3. Jim C.,
    Let me see if I understand your proposed fee schedule. You would not charge anyone for keeping the tug on standby 24 hours a day? You would only charge those ships getting the service? And the cost would be divided equally?

    That would be about $500,000 for each of the seven ships identified as needing the service last year. Only one of them, a 106-foot fishing vessel, actually received a tow line. The others received a tug escort into port or until another tug took over. That includes one tugboat that got back into operation just before the emergency tug arrived. Simple?

  4. If the shipping lines are requesting this standby service, then let them pay for all the costs for keeping the tug on standby. However, I believe this is a state requirement, not something the shipping lines want. What if the county put a tow truck on your street, 24 hours a day and said, “we will pay for it this month, but next month you pay the cost”? Hey I didn’t ask for that, I have AAA! I have TowBoat US for my boat. That is my choice and I pay for it, in addition to required insurance.

    Either way, the taxpayer/consumer gets the bill in the end. That is the cost of having this “insurance policy” in place.

    As for Canada paying anything, why should they? It wasn’t Canadian government that passed the bill. Since it is an international strait, this policy probably should have been a Memorandum of Agreement forged between the two countries via the State Department.

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