Vitus Marine Waiting For Decision On Jones Act Waiver

Vitus Marine, the company contracted to help get fuel delivered to Nome, is hoping to hear back Friday on the status of the Jones Act waiver for the Russian tanker Renda.  The waiver is necessary for the tanker to be able to load gasoline in Dutch Harbor.  Mark Smith, CEO of Vitus Marine says the Defense Department and Maritime Administration have weighed in to Customs and Border Protection, who ultimately makes the decision.  The waiver claims that Nome’s fuel is of indirect significance to national security.   Alaska’s congressional delegation has sent a letter urging the government to approve the waiver.

Meanwhile, the tanker is headed towards port. Smith says the Renda was 340 miles southwest of Attu this morning.  It’s expected to be in Dutch Harbor by the afternoon of Jan. 2.

Several question remain on the final routing and offloading of the fuel, but the regulatory pieces are starting to come together.  On Tuesday, Vitus submitted its delivery plans to be approved by the state, filing an amendment to its oil discharge prevention and contingency plan to incorporate the cold weather considerations.   The vessel support plan is unique as ice-capable tugs and spare barges will not be on hand – instead the Healy will assist, and land based tanks will provide space in the case of an emergency.   The Renda itself is ice capable, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation is requiring the Healy’s participation.

The plan calls for the staging of skimmers, thousands of feet of boom, pumps, sorbent pads, tank trucks, and a bobcat. Vitus has contracted with the Chadux corporation to have spill response equipment on hand.   There will be a spare 610,000 gallon tank available for emergency use even after the fuel is transferred.

John Kotula is the Manager of the Marine Vessels section for the Department of Environmental Conservation.  He says the agency now is making sure that the plans and resources will be ready.

Additional logistics plans are in place for lighting and monitoring the transfer hose if it goes across the ice.  The Renda will have extra environmental protection on board, plus three extra officers for a crew of 21.  The document says Crowley has agreed to lend equipment in Nome should it be needed.  And in addition to the Healy, the plan calls for the Coast Guard to supply a helicopter on shore, with C-130 support overhead, plus specialty personnel. Kotula says the state is in communication with private industry and government groups to make sure the pieces come together in the plan.

Vitus CEO Mark Smith says he’s confident in the plan.  He says it’s based in part on what happens on the North Slope on a regular basis. The oil spill response plan is out for public review until Jan. 3.

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Ben Matheson is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

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