Are we prepared for an Oregon oil spill?

A new report on a barge that ran aground in the Columbia River last year raises questions about local spill preparedness.

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No oil was spilled when the New Dawn fuel barge ran aground on an uncharted mud shoal last summer, but the response demonstrated a level of confusion that could have made things much worse, according to a new report.

Spill response officials from Oregon, Washington and the EPA say the event was not handled correctly.

“We have a protocol with the Coast Guard that vessel incidents that present a potential for spill should be treated the same as an actual spill, and that didn’t happen in this case,” Ron Holcomb,  a spill responder with the Washington Department of Ecology, said in a recent interview. “We don’t see a barge soft aground; we see a million gallons of gasoline in a place where it’s not supposed to be.”

The 1,500-foot safety zone established around the 282-foot barge would have been too small if a leak occurred, the spill response agencies said in the debriefing. The agencies were late to establish a unified command center, so Tidewater assumed “the primary leadership role” and set up the command center in Vancouver rather than near the accident site. And there was “limited coordination between agencies on response and management issues.”


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