Bret A. Simpson, the owner of Principle Metals, LLC, has pleaded guilty in US District Court in Tacoma to two criminal violations of the Clean Water Act; failing to report a discharge of oil, and unlawfully discharging oil into the Columbia River near Camas, Washington. The failure to report offense is punishable by up to five years in prison, while the unlawful discharge offense is punishable by up to one year in prison.
Simpson admits that he was informed about oil left on the barge Davy Crockett while conducting salvage operations. However, Simpson failed to have the oil removed before workers started cutting up the metal barge. When the first oil spill occurred in early December 2010, Simpson failed to notify authorities and failed to take any affirmative steps to monitor the vessel or protect it from natural forces and further structural damage.
Subsequent spills in January 2011 led U.S. Coast Guard investigators to identify the Davy Crockett as the source and initiate a federally funded cleanup effort. Ultimately the US Coast Guard spent eight months and about $20 million working with environmental authorities to clean up the spill and remove the derelict barge from the river.
US District Judge Robert J. Bryan scheduled sentencing for 12 October, 2012 at 9:30. According to the plea agreement, Simpson was informed that fuel oil storage tanks on the marine motor vessel Davy Crockett contained several thousands of gallons of fuel oil and diesel fuel before the vessel was damaged during scrapping operations. M/V Davy Crockett is a former U.S. Navy ship that had been converted to a flat deck barge. Simpson’s company planned to cut the barge apart and sell the metal for scrap.
Simpson assembled a crew to begin dismantling the M/V Davy Crockett at its place of moorage in the Columbia River in October 2010. He made no arrangements to remove the fuel oil and diesel fuel from the vessel before the scrapping operation began. On 1 December, 2010, a member of the scrapping crew cut into a structural beam of the barge, and the ship began breaking apart and leaking oil. Neither Simpson nor anyone else with Principle Metals LLC notified authorities about the leak.
The scrapping operation was halted. Simpson initially addressed the oil release by ceasing all scrapping operations, procuring a boom to limit the release of oil into the Columbia River, and directing an employee to monitor vessel conditions. The employee monitored vessel conditions for approximately one week following the initial release before being relieved of his employment. Simpson took no further steps to monitor the ship, or the boom, and took no steps to protect the barge from further structural damage.
On 19 January, 2011, an accumulation of debris next to the barge forced it to move, and additional oil was released. The Coast Guard responded to the additional movement of the barge, and issued an administrative order for Simpson to remove any remaining visible oil from machinery spaces and deck tubes together with other salvage debris from the vessel. Simpson complied and authorities believed the barge no longer posed an environmental danger. However on January 27, 2011, additional oil was released from the vessel and state and federal authorities immediately responded in an effort to limit environmental damage.