The Makah Nation’s territory includes the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, gateway to a vast inland sea and all of the ecological wonders therein.
The strait is also a marine highway for tankers going to and from five oil refineries that have a capacity of 618,000 gallons of crude oil per day. “More than 4,000 vessel transports and 15 billion gallons of oil regularly travel to and from ports of call in the Northwest Straits and Puget Sound each year,” according to People for Puget Sound.
The state Legislature has approved a law to bolster the region’s ability to prevent spills and respond if they occur. The law follows 2009 legislation that requires cargo carriers, oil carriers and large cruise-ship companies to form a cooperative to contract for emergency response tug service at the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Under the new law, tankers are required to have an oil spill contingency plan on file with the state Department of Ecology. The contingency plan must meet state standards and provide for the containment and cleanup of oil spilled into the waters of the state. The owner or operator of a tanker that fails to satisfy the contingency planning requirements will face stiff financial penalties. The state is required to be notified of vessel emergencies resulting in the discharge of oil or the threat of oil discharge. Penalties are increased for vessels that discharge 1,000 or more gallons of oil.
The Department of Ecology will establish a volunteer coordination system to be used as part of an oil spill response. Spill-response equipment will be stockpiled to ensure equipment is on hand to respond in challenging environments, such as fog, fast currents and rough seas. Commercial fishermen will be trained and equipped for oil spill response to increase the region’s response capacities.
“The Makah Tribal Council would like to acknowledge the cooperative work done by the House, the Senate and all the parties involved to pull this legislation together to make it amenable to all,” Makah Office of Marine Affairs manager Chad Bowechop said in a statement. “This bill should greatly enhance our fishing fleet’s ability to contribute to improving spill response capacity out of our strategic port of Neah Bay.”