Bret A. Simpson, the owner of Principle Metals LLC, was indicted by a federal grand jury with two violations of the Clean Water Act. The grand jury charges that Simpson unlawfully discharged oil into the Columbia River near Camas, Wash., between Dec. 3, 2010, and Jan. 28, 2011.
The second count charges Simpson with failing to notify authorities of the oil discharge between Dec. 1, 2010, and Jan. 19, 2011. Simpson will be summoned to appear for arraignment on the charges in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Wash., on Oct. 14, 2011.
According to the indictment, Simpson knew when he purchased the M/V Davy Crockett, to sell the metal for scrap, that there were tanks onboard the vessel containing thousands of gallons of fuel oil and diesel fuel. Simpson assembled a crew to begin dismantling the M/V Davy Crockett in the Columbia River in October 2010, but made no arrangements to remove the fuel oil and diesel fuel from the vessel.
On Dec. 1, 2010, a member of the scrapping crew cut into a structural beam of the barge, and the ship began breaking apart and leaking oil. Neither Simpson nor anyone else with the company notified authorities about the leak. The scrapping operation was halted.
Simpson initially addressed the oil release by ceasing all scrapping operations, procuring a boom to limit the release of oil into the river, and directing an employee to monitor vessel conditions. The employee monitored vessel conditions for approximately one week following the initial release before being relieved of his employment. Simpson took no further steps to monitor the barge, or the boom, and took no steps to protect the barge from additional structural damage.
On Jan. 19, 2011, the barge was moved and additional oil was released. The U.S. Coast Guard responded, issuing an administrative order for Simpson to remove any remaining visible oil from machinery spaces and deck tubes together with other salvage debris from the vessel. Simpson complied and authorities believed the barge no longer posed an environmental danger. However on Jan. 27, 2011, additional oil was released from the vessel and state and federal authorities immediately responded in an effort to limit environmental damage.
If convicted of the charge of failing to report the release, Simpson could face up to five years of imprisonment and a criminal fine of no more than $250,000. If convicted of the charge of unlawfully discharging oil to the river, Simpson could face up to three years of imprisonment and a criminal fine between $5,000 and $50,000 per day of violation.
The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case is being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney James Oesterle and Special Assistant United States Attorney Lieutenant Commander Marianne Gelakoska of the U.S. Coast Guard.