Rescue tug has permanent home in Neah Bay

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by By MEG COYLE / KING 5 News and Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:36 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 24 at 12:34 PM

Video: Gregoire to approve year-round rescue tug at Neah Bay

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire says she'll sign a bill that requires shippers, tankers and large vessels to pay for a year-round rescue tug at Neah Bay, Wash.

It's been a long time coming. Environmentalists have been fighting for years to permanently base a tug at Neah Bay . The question has always been over funding. On Tuesday, the state is handing over that responsibility to the industries that use our waters the most.

Gregoire scheduled the signing for Tuesday, the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska.

The Neah Bay rescue tug "Gladiator" aids ships in danger of spilling oil in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and off Washington's coast.

By 2010, owners of large ships that travel through the Strait of Juan de Fuca must create a permanent money source to maintain the rescue boat.

The tug has been stationed at Neah Bay mostly on a part-time basis since 1999 and was paid for with state and federal money. In that time, it made 42 rescues, two of them oil tankers.

Environmentalists have been fighting for years to keep a rescue tug permanently based in Neah Bay; the question has always been over funding. Gregoire will sign a new landmark legislation that makes the Gladiator's home in Neah Bay permanently - paid for by the oil, cargo and cruise industry.

"The consequences of an oil spill would be devastating on business, consumers, fisheries and the families of Puget Sound," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who is a longtime supporter of a tug permanently based in Neah Bay.

The debate has always been over who would pay for it. The oil industry has long argued it shouldn't have to pick up the whole tab. And under the new legislation it won't. What's still unclear is how the costs will be split up. The cargo and cruise industries say oil companies should pay more arguing an oil spill would be far more devastating.

Environmentalists are just happy to see years of lobbying finally pay off.

Environmental activist Fred Felleman says oil spills are a concern year-round.

"There is never a good season to have a catastrophic oil spill and we've had major spills both in winter and spring," he said. "Any season is a challenge because as long as there are people driving ships there will be mistakes happening."

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