Cost of Cleanup for Decommissioned
by Leslie Slape
RAINIER - State and federal agencies have spent nearly $1 million cleaning up a derelict naval vessel in the Columbia River near Rainier.
According to a Coast Guard news release, contractors working under the direction of the Coast Guard are removing oil and other hazardous substances from the ex-USS Washtenaw County (LST-1166), a former 374-foot Navy landing ship moored below Dibblee Beach west of the Lewis and Clark Bridge.
The flat-bottomed vessel earned more than 20 distinctions for Vietnam War service, including 13 battle stars, two Presidential Unit Citations, two Navy Unit Commendations and four Meritorious Unit Commendations. It was decommissioned in 1973 and has been privately owned by various entities since.
The Washtenaw County poses an environmental threat due to deterioration and the presence of hazardous materials, including asbestos, and oily waste on board, according to the Coast Guard news release. The Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the Washington Department of Ecology and overseeing the cleanup.
The threat has been greatly increased by the actions of metal thieves, who stripped piping and fittings from the ship, triggering the release of hazardous substances onto most of the decks aboard the vessel, the news release said. The ship is also a potential danger to other vessels due to improper mooring.
The Coast Guard Captain of the Port of Portland issued an order in June requiring the owner of the vessel to submit a plan for cleaning up the oil, asbestos and other toxins. The owner, a small Portland-based nonprofit organization, was unable to meet the requirements of the order, which resulted in the Coast Guard taking federal assumption of the cleanup.
The cleanup has cost $979,286 as of Sept. 4, a Coast Guard spokesman said Tuesday.
After an assessment, the Coast Guard, EPA and Oregon and Cowlitz County agencies have begun the long process of removing hazardous materials on the vessel. Pollution investigators from the combined agencies will continue to oversee cleanup efforts, which are expected to be completed by the end of October.
The ultimate fate of the vessel after cleanup was not clear Tuesday.
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