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State DOE pours up a stiff penalty for oil spill

INDIANOLA — The weather conditions at the Doe-Kag-Wats estuary Tuesday morning were similar to what they were like 15 months ago when disaster struck the beach.

This time though, while again windy, rainy and cold, there was no oil washing upon the shores of Kitsap and the estuary’s grasses were green, not brown.

Standing on these cleaned beaches, Department of Ecology director Jay Manning announced shortly before noon on April 12 that Foss Maritime, the company responsible for the December 2003 oil spill, will be penalized $577,000.

Approximately 4,700 gallons of heavy fuel oil spilled at a terminal at Point Wells near Edmonds just after midnight Dec. 30, 2003. Winds and tides pushed the oil westward, hitting the eastern shores of North Kitsap and infiltrating the beaches of Camp Indianola and the Suquamish Tribe’s private beach and marsh, Doe-Kag-Wats.

A Foss employee had been transferring the oil to a barge at the terminal but miscalculated the flow rate as it was being transfered. Also, the alarm system installed to detect oil overflow was not installed properly and gave no warning of the problem, Manning said, noting it was later discovered the alarm system had been broken since 1997.

The terminal owner at the time, Chevron-Texaco, attempted to handle the spill, but found its response boats were not in working order, delaying the effort to place containment booms that would have helped prevent the oil from spreading.

“It is clear this spill should not have happened,” Manning said.

While this event was small compared to the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, the impact was still just as great, he said.

The fine total of $577,000 was based on a number of factors, including the number of days it took to clean the area and meet environmental standards and the fact that Foss was negligent in causing the spill. Foss conducted a 115-day effort to clean the beaches and marsh, under the supervision of DOE, the U.S. Coast Guard, Kitsap County and the Suquamish Tribe. The clean up cost is estimated at more than $4.5 million, which Foss is responsible to pay. The money will go into a DOE fund for shoreline rehabilitation projects, Manning said.

Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman said while the tribe was shocked and saddened by the event, it is grateful Foss reacted proactively and took responsibility for the incident in cleaning the area. It also taught a lesson in reality.

“Our people learned the vulnerability of this place,” Forsman said. “We no longer take the beauty of this place for granted.”

Currently, Foss and the tribe are negotiating how the tribe will be compensated for the damage to the area. Prior to the spill, Doe-Kag-Wats was known for being one of the last pristine areas in Kitsap, and was place of worship and healing, as well as for substantial shellfish harvest, for tribal members.

“I commend Ecology for its exhaustive and thorough investigation on the Point Wells spill,” said Bruce Reed, Foss’ vice president of operations. “The spill was an unfortunate event and Foss has taken the lessons learned from the incident and applied them to our oil-transfer operations.”

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