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Davy Crockett One Of Many Dilapidated Vessels On The Columbia

Crews are continuing to work on a cracked barge that’s been abandoned in the Columbia River about 15 miles upstream from  Vancouver.

The Davey Crockett was in a ‘V’ shape with half the hull sticking out of the water. But crews Thursday started filling the stern with water — so the whole hull would rest on the river bed.

The next step is for divers to be sent down to see how much more oil and PCBs remain on board.

As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, the Coast Guard estimates that between The Dalles and Longview there are about nine similarly dilapidated ships in the river.

In Camas, on the banks of the Columbia River, a team of Coast Guard workers skip across the water in a small boat.

They’ve just been to see the Davey Crockett an old World War II Liberty Ship that was turned into a barge in the 1960s.

Jim Sachet: “The stern sticks out of the water probably 20 feet so what we’re trying to do is get that stern section weighted down and actually on the bottom of the river.”

Jim Sachet, with the Washington Department of Ecology, says over the day they pumped thousands of gallons of water into the stern.

Nobody’s sure how much oil the Davey Crockett still contains. But about 1400 gallons have been collected.

Coast Guard Captain Doug Kaup says so far, the ecological damage has been minimal.

Doug Kaup: “I think it was the 27th of January when the first longer sheen was seen. There’s been very little if any oil that’s escaped the containment boom since then.”

He says the leak seems to have started when somebody started to dismantle the ship for scrap.

Doug Kaup: “They started to cut this vessel up in a fashion that made the vessel very unstable. Because of that the vessel broke. You know, it’s hard to know it’s clean when a lot of the tanks are underwater and stuff.”

Kaup says pumping water into the hold has greatly reduced the ‘V’ shape the hull was in — and the stress on the vessel.

Doug Kaup: “I have to make a determination if there’s a threat to the environment of pollution. If there is, then we continue the salvage efforts. And I don’t know exactly which way that’ll go. We might try and remove what’s on the vessel in the river, or we may try to take the vessel out of the river, might be the best way to do it.”

The Coast Guard estimates there are about nine similarly aging ships within the Columbia River sector. Kaup says an effort is being made to contact all the owners to gauge the health of the vessels.

Doug Kaup: These vessels that we have, derelict vessels in the river and large, old and very expensive to deal with.”

In the case of the Davey Crockett, Kaup says the owner appears to have walked away, leaving the Coast Guard to tap into about $2.5 million from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

The fund was established after the Exxon Valdez crashed and it’s funded by a small sum taken out of every gallon of gas purchased.

Oregon Senator Betsy Johnson was one of a team of lawmakers briefed on the Davey Crockett by Jeff Christiansen of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Betsy Johnson: “I have to tell you that I came away from the briefing, especially from Mr. Christiansen, with a sense of confidence in his ability to manage a spill of this magnitude.”

Still, Johnson says it is being characterized as a major spill and remains a high-level concern for both the Kitzhaber and Gregoire administrations.