Coast Guard Bill Sent to President’s Desk Includes Cantwell-Sponsored Provisions for Northwest

Oil Spill Trust Fund Strengthened; Ice Breaker Healy to Remain in SeattleCoast Guard to Transfer Portion of Point Wilson Light Station to State Parks; Puget Sound Vessel Traffic System to Receive $10 Million

WASHINGTON, DC – Monday, the long-stalled 2006 Coast Guard authorization bill cleared Congress and was sent to the president’s desk for signature. U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the senior Democrat on the Senate Fisheries and Coast Guard panel and a bill conferee, worked to make sure Washington state provisions were included in the package, including measures to boost oil spill liability caps and fund Washington’s Coast Guard infrastructure. The bill authorizes funds to improve Puget Sound Coast Guard facilities, including $3 million to replace an administrative and operations building on Pier 36 in Seattle damaged in the Nisqually earthquake, and $10 million for an overhaul of the Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Services system to improve communication and maritime safety. The Vessel Traffic Services system manages over 200,000 vessel trips every year and assists in 150 search and rescue operations from Bellingham south to Olympia and as far west as the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“The Pacific Northwest has a proud maritime history and the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma make up the nation’s third busiest maritime cargo center,” said Cantwell. “By boosting our region’s Coast Guard infrastructure and giving the Coast Guard the resources it needs to carry out its multiple missions, we can keep maritime jobs in the Pacific Northwest, keep our ports safe and secure, and protect our marine environment.”

The legislation also increases polluter liability caps for the Oil Spill Trust Fund, which funds spill cleanup. Current limits, which have gone unmodified since 1990, are far below actual cleanup costs. These provisions are similar to those in the Oil Pollution Prevention and Response Act (S.2440), Cantwell’s comprehensive oil spill prevention bill. The legislation also requires the Coast Guard to maintain and operate the polar ice breaker fleet out of Seattle, and authorizes $100 million for fleet operation and maintenance. Based in Seattle, the fleet employs approximately 300 area residents. The Coast Guard must also develop a long-term plan for maintaining and upgrading the icebreaker fleet, helping to ensure the program’s viability and safeguarding local jobs. Cantwell’s work will ensure that the Healy remains home-ported in Seattle. A preliminary report provided by the Coast Guard revealed that a proposal to move the ship would cost between $22 million and $57 million. Seattle’s Todd Pacific Shipyards has long-term contracts for all three Coast Guard icebreakers.

The legislation also directs the Coast Guard to transfer a portion of the Point Wilson Light Station in Port Townsend to Washington State Parks, including the lighthouse, the two oil houses, and lands sufficient to operate an interpretive center. The Coast Guard must also consider locating resources and personnel at Naval Station Everett, and report on the feasibility and cost savings potential of using biodiesel fuel in Coast Guard vehicles and vessels. Expanding maritime biofuel use could help address Elliott Bay air quality concerns, jumpstart Washington state’s fledging biodiesel industry, and help reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.