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Ecology awards final contract for publicly-funded Neah Bay tug

OLYMPIA - The Department of Ecology (Ecology) has extended its contract agreement with Crowley Maritime Corp. to station a state-funded emergency response tug at Neah Bay for another full year of service beginning July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010.

Under the $3.6 million extension agreement, an emergency response tug will remain at Neah Bay to prevent disabled ships and barges from drifting onto rocks and causing oil spills in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Washington's outer coast. The contract marks the final year the state will pay for the emergency response tug service.

On March 24, 2009, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation that shifted funding responsibility for the Neah Bay tug from the state to the maritime industry beginning July 1, 2010. The new law will ensure a high-capability ocean-going tug is permanently deployed at Neah Bay year round.

"I am pleased the Department of Ecology has ensured there will be no break in service for the Neah Bay tug," said Gov. Gregoire. "This tug is an important safety net that will help protect our environment, our economy and our cultural history from devastating oil spills."

The state has funded a Neah Bay tug since 1999 - primarily during the stormy winter months. The response tug has stood by or assisted 42 ships either completely disabled or with reduced maneuvering ability. During nine responses, the tug attached a tow line to take physical control of the disabled vessel to safely tow it to a harbor for repairs.

Crowley took over the state tug contract from January to March 2007 and the following winter season from Oct. 1, 2007, through March 15, 2008. Ecology then reached an agreement with the company to extend the contract to provide the first full year of tug service from July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2009.

Under the new 2009-2010 extension, Crowley will provide the final publicly funded year of tug service for $8,755 a day plus fuel costs.

"Crowley is proud to be part of this tremendous state program that provides key safety measures for our region's maritime community and protects our pristine marine waters and shorelines from oil spills," said Scott Hoggarth, general manager of ship assist and escort services for Crowley in Seattle. "We work closely with our coastal neighbors and have an active partnership with the Makah Indian Tribe, whose fishing grounds could be impacted by an accident. All of the parties involved in this program understand the benefits of keeping ships safe and our waterways clean."

The Strait of Juan de Fuca is one of the busiest commercial shipping lanes on the West Coast. Every year, oil tankers, fuel barges and large commercial cargo, fish-processing and passenger vessels make about 4,500 round-trip voyages through the Strait.

"With more than 20 billion gallons of oil moving through Puget Sound and the Strait, the risk for a catastrophic spill is very real," said state Sen. Kevin Ranker. "Ensuring continuous service from the Neah Bay tug could prevent the cost of cleaning up any spills, including not only the probable millions in financial cost but also the cost to the environment for decades to come."

Sen. Ranker said under the new law, a privately-funded emergency response tug must be permanently stationed at Neah Bay by July 1, 2010. The maritime industry will be required to meet the same standards the state has met for the past 10 years. Industry also will have to submit progress reports to state lawmakers in October and December 2009 and provide a plan to Ecology demonstrating compliance with the new law.

State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege said from the entrance to the Strait to Port Angeles as well as most of Washington's outer coast, the Neah Bay tug is the only physical protective measure for tankers, fuel barges and large commercial ships - a critical safety net for preventing spills. He also emphasized the state's ability to dispatch the tug should industry have any hesitancy to do so during an emergency.

Beaches in the Olympic National Park, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, three national wildlife refuges, and tribal lands are directly at risk for major oil spills since they are adjacent to the shipping route.

"A major spill would severely hurt Washington's shellfish and fishing industry, tribal communities, tourism and recreation. It would disrupt our economy and our way of life," Rep. Van De Wege said. "The Neah Bay tug is the cornerstone of our state's oil spill safety net for the Olympic Peninsula. With the final state contract now in hand, we can turn our attention to making sure we have a privately-funded, permanent tug ready to prevent spills beginning July 2010."

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