Tag Archives: Neah Bay tug

Will a new Neah Bay tug arrive on schedule?

It was at the end of March last year that the Legislature shifted the burden of paying for a tugboat at Neah Bay to the shipping industry, and the governor signed the bill into law.

At the time, it seemed to me that it would be much easier said than done for various shippers to allocate the cost among themselves. Industry representatives agreed that negotiations would be difficult, as I reported in a Kitsap Sun story last March 31.

The Legislature had looked at a cost-allocation system but decided to allow the industry to work it out themselves. Progress reports were required by Oct. 31 and Dec. 1.

And this is where I may have misunderstood the Legislature’s intent. I thought the idea was that if the shippers failed to put a system in place by the end of last year, then the Legislature would come back and do something this year to ensure no disruption in tug service. By then, the industry would have little room to complain. But that’s not what is happening.

This week, I wrote about progress in those negotiations and learned that the two major groups are still some distance apart. (See Thursday’s Kitsap Sun.) But the Legislature has no intent of stepping in. The law requires that the tugboat be on station before ships can operate in Puget Sound, and everyone seems confident that the law will be followed.

Department of Ecology officials have indicated that penalties for shippers could run to $10,000 a day if the tugboat is not there. (You may review the correspondence on the subject.) Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D- Bainbridge Island, a key player in the bill, told me that the fines would be enough to cover the cost of the tug, so he would allow the process to play out.

Since the shipping industry is generally divided between oil shippers and cargo shippers, the only alternative I can see, if negotiations fail, is to have two tugs at Neah Bay. Of course, that would be ridiculous and a waste of money.

As in many negotiations, these are likely to go down to the wire. Everyone expects a new tug to be in place by July 1.

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.