Year-round Neah Bay tug likely to become reality

OLYMPIA — The state Legislature will vote today on funding a year-round response tugboat stationed at Neah Bay.

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.

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