NEAH BAY(Sept. 29, 2008)—Like a hungry bird with a wide open mouth, the 73-foot-long Arctic Tern oil spill response vessel opens its skimming doors wide in Neah Bay Harbor during weekly oil spill drills. The recently acquired vessel and its crew of two from Neah Bay are part of the Makah Tribe’s effort to effectively respond to oil spills that threaten their community and natural resources.
The Makah Tribe has worked hard to get as much mechanical oil spill response equipment stationed in Neah Bay as possible, following spills of more than 3 million gallons in their waters. Natural resources such as fish, marine mammals and other cultural resources were devastated. In the past decades, the tribe has pushed in federal and state forums to obtain better protection for the coast, where more than 15 billion gallons of oil move through Makah tribal waters annually.
The tribe prefers mechanical retrieval, because using chemical dispersants means environmental trade-offs, such as killing fish larvae rather than having oil wash up onshore.
“Once oil is in the water, it’s all about setting up the command center and understanding the environmental trade-offs,” said Chad Bowechop, marine manager of the tribe’s Office of Marine Affairs.
The tribe’s efforts to retain more spill response equipment led to Neah Bay being designated as a primary staging area for oil spill response by Washington state. That led to the stationing of the Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC) vessels Arctic Tern and the 40-foot Loon. The crew of the Arctic Tern, which includes Makah tribal member Bill Lawrence and Neah Bay resident Dwight Tevuk, trains regularly on a variety of vessels. The tribe continues to work to stabilize funding for a rescue tug stationed in Neah Bay which has responded to 41 ships since 1999, preventing incidents from becoming spills. This is the first year the tug has been stationed year-round and the tribe is working with Congressional representatives to assure it stays year-round.
“There’s no good season for an oil spill,” said Bowechop.
Most recently, the tribe was appointed as a member to the Regional Response Team (RRT), one of 13 such teams that make up the National Response Team. They are the first tribe on the West Coast to be appointed to an RRT.
“Up until now, tribal interests were minimally represented at the regional or national level,” said Bowechop. By working to understand the structure of spill response and becoming active in the state, U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency processes, the tribe has become a leader in protecting its own resources. There is now language in the Northwest Area Oil Spill Plan that recognizes the requirement to consult with the Makah Tribal Council regarding conditional approval for using chemical dispersants with Makah treaty-protected waters.
One of the tribe’s goals is to include other tribal governments in the process and establish an inter-tribal work group. “We’re part of the decision-making process now,” said Bowechop. “We can make sure our treaty interests are represented on the RRT.”
For more information, contact: Micah McCarty, Makah Tribal Chairman, (360) 645-3230; Chad Bowechop, marine manager, Makah Office of Marine Affiars, (360) 645-3015; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501, firstname.lastname@example.org