Puget Sound Oil-Spill Costs Surpass $1 million in Washington State

The cleanup bill for Thursday's South Sound oil spill now exceeds $1 million, and investigators still haven't figured out who's to blame.

Oct. 19—The cleanup bill for Thursday's South Sound oil spill now exceeds $1 million, and investigators still haven't figured out who's to blame.

"It's safe to say the investigation is not on the verge of finding the responsible party," said Larry Altose, a Department of Ecology spokesman.

The bill surpassed $1 million as of midnight Sunday and is likely to mount as cleanup crews continue to mop up residual oil that washes onto Vashon and Maury islands, Altose said.

Ninety percent of the cleanup money comes from a federal oil industry tax. The rest will be billed to the state. If authorities identify the source, the responsible party could be forced to compensate the state and federal governments.

Coast Guard agents have issued subpoenas in connection with the investigation, but Altose said that doesn't mean anyone has been asked to appear in court.

He described the federal subpoenas as a routine investigative tool, part of the paperwork needed to board ships or interview potential witnesses.

Altose also denied media reports that have suggested the list of suspect vessels has been narrowed to two. Some of the ships in the area at the time of the spill are headed to Alaska and others to the Far East. The Coast Guard plans to meet the Alaska-bound ships when they reach port and use diplomatic channels to get access to the other vessels in Asia, he said.

He refused to say whether an analysis of the oil has allowed investigators to determine what kind it is. He implied that a more specific description of the oil might compromise the investigation, and also repeated previous statements that it might be a mix of oils.

As for the cleanup, the focus narrowed Monday to the beaches, where 83 people picked up debris and soaked up oil with absorbent materials.

In all, 21 miles of South Sound beaches were touched by the spill, which was first reported to the Ecology Department at 1 a.m.

Thursday. The worst of the spill hit six miles of beaches on the south ends of Vashon and Maury islands.

By Monday, the only spill remnant still visible by air was a small, isolated patch in Ollala Bay, officials said. Crews didn't try to recover remaining oil floating on the surface because it was not thick enough to collect with skimmers, Altose said. The number of birds and seals rescued did not increase Monday. Over the weekend, rescuers picked up one oil-soaked Western grebe from the Des Moines fishing pier and took it to a Progressive Animal Welfare Society rehabilitation facility in Lynnwood.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Crimestoppers hotline has received at least 25 spill-related tips, which have been forwarded to Coast Guard investigators, said Ed Troyer, a Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman. Crimestoppers has offered a $3,000 reward for information leading to the source of the spill.

State and federal cleanup officials, plus King County Parks Department officials were scheduled to meet Monday night with Vashon and Maury Island residents at the McMurray Middle and Chautauqua Elementary schools.

Officials were invited by the Vashon & Maury Island Community Council on behalf of residents upset about the spill.

© 2004, The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.