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Elwha River Hatchery to Hurt Recovery, Critics Say

by Eric Florip
Seattle Times, August 27, 2011

Crews at the cleanup site of the Davy Crockett marked a major milestone Thursday, lifting the final piece of the derelict barge from the Columbia River near Camas.

Workers stopped to watch a crane hoist the 60-foot hunk of rusted steel from the water. Some raised their cameras. Others traded handshakes. Most were all smiles.

But the job isn't done yet.

"We still have some significant work ahead of us," said Mike Greenburg of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, one of the site coordinators.

Even with the broken barge removed, workers still must take care of contaminated sediment where the hulk partially sank in January, releasing oil and debris into the river. Then comes the deconstruction of a metal cofferdam built around the vessel to keep pollutants from spreading.

All of that work could be completed by the end of October, project leaders said Thursday. By that time, the cleanup will cost more than $20 million, paid for by the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

Officials took the opportunity to highlight the significance of Thursday's step in the seven-month-old cleanup administered by the U.S. Coast Guard, Washington Department of Ecology and Oregon DEQ. The lead contractor is Seattle-based Ballard Diving & Salvage.

As crews waited for the Davy Crockett to leave the river for good, Coast Guard Capt. Danny LeBlanc praised the collaboration that made it happen.

"The occasion of today is a very rewarding day," he said. "This is a symbolic event."

Seven-month cleanup

The saga began in January, when Davy Crockett owner Brett Simpson of Ellensburg attempted to scrap the damaged barge where it floated, without obtaining permits. Instead, the 431-foot vessel buckled and partially sank.

Later that month, the Department of Ecology traced an oil sheen 15 miles away to the barge, a converted World War II-era Liberty Ship. That's when federal authorities took over the cleanup.

Officials initially planned to take the vessel out of the river before dismantling it. But they couldn't reach an agreement with local shipyards. So workers took the unusual step of tearing it apart, piece by piece, where it sat near the north bank of the Columbia River just upstream of the Interstate 205 bridge.

"Let me be clear: The operations coordinated here were extremely challenging, technically complex, and were labor-intensive," LeBlanc said.

Crews worked within a two-layered wall designed to keep further pollution out of the river: a metal cofferdam reinforced by another silt barrier. The setup worked well, LeBlanc said, though unusually high spring runoff overtopped some parts of the cofferdam.

As crews worked through the barge, it became apparent that the damaged vessel might not have made it out of the river without causing further havoc, LeBlanc said. That made onsite deconstruction the correct call, he said.

"In hindsight, I have to say we did it right," he said.

The numbers piled up during the cleanup are eye-catching: Nearly 4.5 million pounds of steel removed. Close to 840,000 pounds of debris. Almost 33,000 gallons of pure oil, plus another 1.6 million gallons of oily water.

A federal investigation continues, said LeBlanc, standing next to two huge anchors pulled from the Davy Crockett. It's likely that the government will at least seek some reimbursement from Simpson, the vessel's last owner.

Now that all but small bits of steel are gone, crews will dredge oil- and lead-contaminated sediment inside the cofferdam. Officials tested sediment outside the barrier, he said, but didn't find anything significant enough to warrant the same treatment.

Removing polluted sediment may take 14 to 18 days, Greenburg said. Taking down the cofferdam could take six weeks.

"The entire threat of pollution will be gone when this project is over," Greenburg said.

'Not the easiest'

A crane lift at the Davy Crockett site normally wouldn't turn many heads. Thursday was different.

As diver Brian Jamison donned his suit and diving helmet, more than a dozen other workers stood on scaffolding and other vantage points. Jamison disappeared underwater to connect the crane's hook to a large, curved piece of the vessel's bow keel.

At 11:35 a.m., the rusted steel slowly surfaced, leaving a large plume of mud and oil behind. A ring of white absorbent boom around the work site -- changed daily through most of the operation -- showed splotches of black even before the piece came up.

Just after noon, the crane carried the large chunk to another barge, near a pile of Crockett steel scrap. A handful of workers in white suits immediately began cleaning it. Like the rest of the Crockett's metal, it will be taken to Portland-based Schnitzer Steel to be recycled.

The final section of keel weighed an estimated 55,000 pounds.

"That was not the easiest, trust me," said Bob Mester of contractor Ballard Diving. "That was a large piece."

Eric Florip
Elwha River Hatchery to Hurt Recovery, Critics Say
Seattle Times, August 27, 2011

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