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Senate passes Neah Bay response tug legislation; next step, the House

The state Senate today passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, establishing a permanent funding source for the Neah Bay response tug.

Senate Bill 5344 passed 44-4 and now goes to the House for consideration.

“This is a big step in the right direction to provide funding for the Neah Bay Response Tug from the organizations that pose the risk instead of the taxpayers,” Ranker said in a press release. “I appreciate the collaboration of the Legislature, Department of Ecology, the Puget Sound Partnership, Western States Petroleum Association, maritime industry and numerous environmental organizations in helping move this important legislation forward.”

The Neah Bay response tug has assisted more than 40 commercial vessels that lost rudder control or propulsion or otherwise found themselves in situations where they were in danger of running aground.

Part-time seasonal operations have been funded by state and federal programs since 1999, and the state has provided funding for full-time service since July 2008. But with tax dollars in short supply, Ranker thinks the time has come for oil tankers, cargo vessels and large cruise ships to form a cooperative to contract for standby response tug service at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, agrees. He is chairman of the Senate Environment, Water & Energy Committee.

“The effects of an oil spill can be detrimental to valuable economic, environmental and cultural resources,” Rockefeller said in the press release. “And, with tax dollars at an absolute premium, this measure correctly delegates payment for the potential services to those who would use them, not taxpayers.”

Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, added, “A response tug for the Strait of Juan de Fuca is essential not only for environmental protection, it’s also a practical resource for ensuring safe navigation. A response tug can help avert a major accident that would otherwise delay or block shipping and impact our economy.”

The bill has received the support of all 39 Washington counties through the Washington State Association of Counties, as well as tribal governments, industry and numerous environmental organizations.

“Preventing pollutants from entering our waterways in the first place is the most reliable and cost-effective way to manage Puget Sound’s health,” said David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, which recently adopted the Action Agenda to protect and restore Puget Sound. “I appreciate the leadership of Sen. Ranker, and the broad-based coalition of labor, the maritime industry and environmental organizations such as People for Puget Sound, who all came together to pass this important legislation specified in the Action Agenda.”

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