Bret A. Simpson pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to two criminal violations of the Clean Water Act for spilling oil in the Columbia River.
In late 2010, Simpson began dismantling the barge Davy Crockett in the river near Camas, Washington. The barge began leaking oil, but Simpson failed to report the spill to authorities.
In early 2011, the U.S. Coast Guard traced an oil sheen on the river to the Davy Crockett. That led to a $22 million cleanup. Crews removed more than 38 thousand gallons of heavy bunker oil from the barge and thousands of pounds of asbestos.
According to his plea agreement, Simpson knew the barge contained oil and diesel fuel before he began cutting up the barge.
Simpson faces up to a year in prison for the spill and up to 5 years for failing to report it. Neither Simpson nor his public defender would comment for this story. Sentencing has been set for Oct. 12, 2012.
An EarthFix investigation found that the U.S. Coast Guard had ordered a previous owner of the barge to remove 4,800 gallons of heavy bunker oil and diesel fuel from the vessel in 2009. Neither the Coast Guard nor the previous owner provided proof that any oil or fuel was removed at that time.
The Coast Guard spent most of 2011 removing the oil and the vessel from the Columbia River.
Correction: July 20, 2011. An earlier version of this story repeated an incorrect sentencing date for Simpson from a press release. The correct date is Oct. 12, 2012.
Share your experiences as part of EarthFix's Public Insight Network.
Join our Public Insight Network!