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Déjà vu all over again at the Port of Olympia

Olympia Port Commissioners should have listened to the guy’s wife.  The Port (and the Olympian) celebrated last year, when Bart Lematta bought the 67-year-old Evergreen ferry after it had been seized for nonpayment from the previous owner.  At the time of the sale Lematta said, “My wife thinks I’m nuts and I think I may be as well.”  Could that be applied to the Commissioners as well?

The Port has “asked Lematta to leave” (hopefully taking the ferry with him) because he has not obtained insurance policies and a $1 million security bond they requested – a year after they agreed to keep storing the ferry.

You’d think the Port Commissioners would have learned their lesson after they first got stuck with the Evergreen State ferry.  It’s not like they weren’t warned.  Officials with the Derelict Vessel Program (DVP) at the Dept. of Natural Resources asked the Port last year to follow the protocols designed to prevent a vessel becoming derelict, prior to any sale.

The state wanted the Port to pay for a survey of the then 66-year-old Evergreen ferry to determine its seaworthiness. They also wanted the Port to take out insurance that would cover the boat in case the new owner abandoned it. DVP also encouraged the Port to vet winning bidders for their ability to maintain a vessel before finalizing a sale.

The Port didn’t respond, and didn’t take any of the suggestions. It seems the lure of cash trumped any other considerations. And also precluded asking questions that might reveal important downsides.  (The Port was recently dinged by the State Auditor for having too little cash in the bank.)

In addition to the prospect of the ferry being abandoned at the Port for the second time, 10,000 gallons of diesel oil have been sitting in its tanks for several years.  The likelihood is that the fuel is contaminated and should be pumped out and disposed of.  But that’s expensive, so it sits in our waters, waiting til there’s an accidental leak.

Thanks to the Port Commission’s unquestioning acceptance of any proposition that might produce some cash, here we are again:  an unqualified owner who wasn’t vetted; a failure to obtain financial protection before (not after) signing a contract; 10,000 gallons of dirty diesel oil parked at the Port, a looming likelihood of another seizure (how many of those do you get?) and ultimately, shifting liability for the disposition of this derelict-in-waiting to the public.

Port staff didn’t do its job

According to Sam Gibboney, Executive Director, the Port’s marine terminal staff and maritime attorney came up with the initial service agreement with Lamatta. It was woefully insufficient.

Not only did the staff ignore the advice of the DVP official, they  also neglected to inform themselves about Washington laws that address financial liability associated with aging vessels. Here’s what the law says:

At the time of title transfer buyers of [large, old] vessels need to secure at least $300,000 in marine insurance coverage encompassing general, legal, and pollution liability protection and provide proof of coverage to the seller, and either the Department of Licensing upon registration, or the Department of Revenue upon paying any taxes. RCW 79,100.


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