By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
Crescent City's harbor board violated the law when it gave permission for the 435-ton vessel El Conquistador to enter Crescent City's harbor.
A series of miscommunications and misunderstandings by the harbor commission has led to frustration for Fish and Game warden Joaquin Mariante and boat owners Shon Nickel and Lee Keevil.
"Things could have gone smoother between the harbor commission, Fish and Game and the Coast Guard," Mariante said yesterday.
El Conquistador owners Nickel and Keevil are not in compliance with three federal and state regulations and therefore it's not legal for the boat to enter U.S. or California waters from its origination point in Canada.
Mariante said harbor officials should have known about the 10-year-old rules of compliance and made sure the boat was legal to come in before giving Keevil and Nickel the go-ahead to leave Canada and dock in Crescent City.
Keevil said she has been talking with Taylor about bringing the boat here for two years before its arrival.
"I would think that if you're a harbor district, you would be knowledgeable in those rules and they seem not to be. None of it is new, but somehow the Crescent City Harbor District is not aware of it," Mariante said.
Specifically, Keevil and Nickel lack an oil-spill contingency plan, a federal certificate of financial responsibility and a state certificate of financial responsibility, said Mariante.
The boat is also forbidden to run its engines until a gasket in its oil pump is replaced to stop oil from leaking into the bilge.
Mariante said both Fish and Game and the Coast Guard informed the boat owners and the harbor district last Friday that they were ordering the boat to stay where it is until it comes into compliance.
Despite that, the harbor commission on Tuesday ordered Keevil to have the boat ready to move by the next day and threatened a $7,200 bill if the owner didn't comply.
"I tried to explain to them on Friday, because I knew they had a meeting Tuesday, what needed to happen. I was concerned that the commission would pass actions and make rulings that it couldn't enforce," said Mariante.
Essentially, Fish and Game took over the issue of the El Conquistador on Friday and became the lead agency in charge as per the Area Contingency Plan agreement between the federal, state, and local government.
"That way 10 agencies aren't saying 10 different things, confusing everyone," Mariante said.
Despite what Mariante said was an exhausting conversation about Fish and Game's takeover, the harbor board made its own decisions about the boat.
"It was a criminal offense and naturally that leads to conflict," he said about the harbor's action.
Harbor CEO Taylor could not be reached for comment as he is out of town. Harbor Commissioner Bev Noll did not want to speak on the record and Commission President Garry Young did not return phone messages requesting comment.
As of yesterday, however, Mariante and harbor maintenance supervisor Alan Tromble agreed all the agencies and the boat owners are now "on the same page."
It was underscored by Mariante that Keevil and Nickel are still being held responsible for getting their papers and boat into compliance.
"They've been working very diligently to get in compliance. I made it very clear to them that if they don't work on it diligently, I'll file a criminal case with the district attorney. And they are. They have spent tens-of-thousands of dollars already trying to fix it," he said.
Mariante was careful to point out no oil has leaked from the boat since its engines were shut down in late August.
"It's got a completely closed system. The only way oil can leak out is if they start the engine and turn the valves in a certain way in the bilge," he said.
Lots of oil had leaked into the bilge because of the engine problems, but 3,800 gallons were sucked out Thursday by a Portland company and hauled off.
Ironically, Mariante said, it was complaints from other harbor users that El Conquistador was leaking oil into the boat basin that brought the warden here to inspect and check the boat's compliance.
He said people were complaining that crab and fish were dying because of the heavy oil content in the basin's water and that the oil was coming from Nickel's vessel.
"But they have a closed system. So the discharge in the harbor is from other boats in the harbor not this one," said Mariante.
Especially frustrating for the warden was that the harbor acted to keep excess oil out of the harbor a couple of years ago, then reversed its decision.
He said the harbor passed an ordinance saying automatic bilge pumps were not allowed. Mariante said he and his colleagues were so pleased by the move that they offered to visit regularly and enforce the new rule for the harbor.
The harbor refused the help and decided to take the law off the books.
"I'm just really amazed, because here we are going forward and saying we'll enforce this rule for you and instead of saying yeah, great, go ahead,' they just removed the ordinance," he said.
Working out the misunderstandings yesterday resulted in extra time for El Conquistador owners to stay at the work dock and hire a skipper.
The boat is scheduled to move at high tide 1 p.m. Tuesday to Citizen's Dock, which was deemed safer for holding the heavy ship than its current location at the inner boat basin work dock.
The harbor commission has been pushing to kick the boat out of the harbor, fearing it could cause damage to the dock and nearby boats.
Insurance and the ability for the boat owners to pay moorage fees were also in question.