Following a flight in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter over the Columbia River this afternoon, Gov. Chris Gregoire and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber called for a joint federal-state initiative to ensure the removal of derelict vessels before they cause significant harm to our environment and state budgets. That initiative must include increased federal support, as well as changes to existing state programs.
"We would never allow someone to simply abandon their broken-down car on their front lawn, and expect the public to pay to clean it up," Gregoire said. "And tax payers shouldn't be expected to cover the costs of removing derelict vessels. We need tougher legislation to prevent these vessels from becoming derelict in the first place. And we need the authority to hold boat owners to a higher degree of accountability."
"The number of derelict vessels along the Columbia is increasing," Kitzhaber said. "We need to act now to put the responsibility back where it belongs: on the vessel owners themselves. Oregon and Washington's shared waterways are too important environmentally, economically, and socially to have people using them for backyard salvage operations."
Coast Guard Admiral Taylor led the two governors on an overflight of the Columbia River this afternoon. The Coast Guard and the two states have identified 33 vessels of great concern in the Lower Columbia River that have been abandoned or are in serious disrepair. The vessels could leak or sink, causing oil and other hazardous materials to contaminate the Columbia River.
The Davy Crockett, a former World War II transport vessel, recently broke apart and leaked oil into the Columbia River before sinking. Almost $24 million in public funding was spent to remove the vessel and contain the contamination. Before it started leaking, the vessel would have cost approximately $3 million to be towed to a dry dock and properly dismantled.
Gregoire and Kitzhaber are urging changes in state and federal programs to ensure better accountability from vessel owners by requiring them to maintain proper registration, remove pollution risks from vessels at the time of disposal or sale, and meet financial assurance requirements to secure proper maintenance and disposal of their vessels. The governors are also calling for clearer procedures and lines of responsibility for addressing derelict vessels that would allow for regulatory agencies to inspect and remove pollution sources from vessels that are abandoned, trespassing on state land, or are at risk of sinking.
Additionally, the two governors are asking the federal government to take a lead role in derelict vessel removal and increase financial resources for removing derelict vessels. A number of the derelict vessels threatening our shared waters were once owned by the federal government.
Gregoire and Kitzhaber noted the problem is not limited to the Columbia River, as there are derelict vessels found in Puget Sound and in some estuaries and along the outer coast. They pledged to work with the Coast Guard and other federal partners, their respective federal delegations, state Legislatures and land managers, and the maritime industry to ensure quick removal of derelict vessels.