By Brian Gawley, Peninsula Daily News
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If approved, the $3.65 million in the 2008 supplemental budget would provide $10,000 a day for the tug, effective July 1, when the state's new fiscal year begins.
Since 1999, a tugboat has been stationed at Neah Bay during winter months to escort ships in trouble and avoid oil spills in the Strait of Juan de Fuca or off the state's Pacific Coast.
Forty vessels have been escorted during that time.
The Gladiator response tugboat operated by Crowley Maritime Corp. had escorted six vessels when it ended its current winter season on March 7 — a total of 159 days.
The new funding, which originally was proposed by the state Senate, is a substantial increase from the $2 million proposed in the state House's budget.
It was included in the final budget after routine conference committee negotiations, said Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam.
Kessler, along with Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, and Sen. Jim Hargrove, represents the 26th District, which includes Clallam, Jefferson and a portion of Gray's Harbor counties.
The 2007-08 deployment season was the shortest since the 2000-01 winter season, when the tug was deployed for 257 days.
The state Department of Ecology's contract was for $8,500 a day, plus another $500 per day for fuel and related expenses for vessel operations.
Ecology spokesman Curt Hart said that the amount in the 2008 supplemental budget should be enough to keep the response tugboat at Neah Bay all year long.
$10,000 a day enough
Tugboat companies were surveyed in the fall and again in January, Hart said, and $10,000 per day "was about what they said it would take to station a tugboat year-round."
"They might want to negotiate a higher rate," he added.
"In the past, we've had seasonal funding, but now we can be more competitive and attractive with year-round funding.
"We're going to do the very best we can," he said.
Crowley's contract with Ecology contains a clause allowing the company to extend it for another year.
Otherwise the contract would be put out to competitive bid, Hart said.
Mark Miller, Crowley's director of corporate communications in Jacksonville, Fla., was unavailable for comment Wednesday evening.
The state's funding is only for one year, until June 2009.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, authored a bill to provide federal year-round response tugboat funding.
"We'd love to see that, let's put it that way," Hart said.
"What we'd like to see is a permanent funding source for the response tugboat."
Fred Felleman of Ocean Advocates, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle and San Juan Island, was pleased by the state funding, but hoped for federal action.
"The fact that the Legislature stepped up one more time is fantastic, but it's just one year," he said.
"We need to fix that into the future and Cantwell is poised to do that."
The problem with Cantwell's legislation is that it would require only those vessels required to have an oil spill response plan, which includes oil tankers but not freighters, to contribute to the cost of the response tugboat, Felleman said.
But according to Cantwell's Web site, Coast Guard Admiral Allen announced during a Senate hearing on March 7 that the Coast Guard would use its own authority to require non-tanker vessels larger than 400 gross tons to carry an oil spill response plan.
"So anyone who goes through the Strait of Juan de Fuca will fund the response tugboat through this legislation," Felleman said.
"This is truly a great day for Puget Sound recovery efforts.
"One oil spill could set all this money we're spending on cleanup back to square one.
Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-417-3532 or firstname.lastname@example.org.