April 13, 2005

Foss to pay $577,000 state spill penalty

Washington State Department of Ecology says that Foss Maritime Co. must pay nearly $577,000 in state penalties in relation to a December 2003 oil spill that fouled shorelines in Snohomish and Kitsap counties.

Jay Manning, director of the Department of Ecology (Ecology), announced the fine yesterday at a news conference at the Doe-Kag-Wats salt marsh on the Suquamish Tribe's Port Madison Reservation near Indianola in Kitsap County. The marsh, more than a mile of beach, and public and tribal shellfish beds were contaminated by the spill.

"This spill was miniscule compared to the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and the cleanup effort was aggressive, but the effects were still serious," Manning said. "The environment was damaged, the shellfishing was disrupted for months and it has turned out to be costly for the Foss Company."

According to the Department of Ecology, a Foss barge spilled approximately 4,700 gallons of heavy fuel oil while being filled at the ChevronTexaco terminal at Point Wells in Snohomish County just after midnight on Dec. 30, 2003. Oil washed onto shore at the terminal and drifted across Puget Sound to coat beaches and the Doe-kag-wats marsh on the northern shore of Port Madison.

According to a statement releas yesterday by the department, a Foss employee in charge of filling the barge miscalculated the flow rate into a tank during the fuel transfer. In addition, a detector and alarm to warn when barge tanks are about to overflow were improperly installed and gave no warning.

Foss conducted a 115-day effort to clean up the spill, under the supervision of Ecology, the U.S. Coast Guard, Kitsap County and the Suquamish Tribe.

The Department of Ecology says the penalty amount is based onthe department's finding that Foss was negligent in causing the spill--a higher level of fault than "liable" but lower than a finding of "reckless or intentional"--and on the number of days of cleanup it took to meet environmental standards.

"Foss has a record of being sensitive to the environment, but this spill simply should not have happened," said Manning.

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

Reed also apologized on behalf of the company for the effect the spill had on the local environment and residents, "especially the Suquamish Tribe, whose tribal waters and lands bore the greatest brunt of the release."

In addition to the penalty, Foss is responsible for paying the cleanup costs, which amounted to more than $4.5 million, and for restoring the environmental resources that were damaged. The resource damage assessment is still being determined.

"The lesson here is that there's no such thing as an insignificant spill," Manning said. "Anyone who operates any size of watercraft must take extra care to not spill fuel into the water."

The fine is the second-largest ever issued by Ecology for a petroleum spill. Foss has the option to appeal the penalty to Ecology or to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings board within 30 days.

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