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Tuesday, May 23, 2006 - Page updated at 02:20 PM


Land board settles New Carissa shipwreck cleanup for $22 million

AP Business Writer

SALEM, Ore. — Seven years after the New Carissa ran aground on an Oregon beach, the legal battle over removal of the shipwreck has ended with a $22.1 million settlement.

The Oregon State Land Board, headed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, voted unanimously today to accept a proposal from the owners, Green Atlas Shipping Co., to end their appeal of a $25 million jury award in 2002.

Now it will be up to the Legislative Emergency Board in September to approve removal of the rusting stern of the wood chip freighter - the last remaining chunk of a 660-foot ship that broke apart in a nearly comical effort to drag it free in 1999.

The New Carissa snapped in half during efforts to burn off its engine fuel, sending the fuel into Coos Bay and contaminating its oyster beds. Salvage crews battled fierce winter weather to tow the bow section to sea, but lost it when a cable snapped, sending it back to shore to cause more pollution. It was eventually towed back to sea and scuttled by a Navy torpedo.

The stern, cut down to a skeleton, has sunk deep into the sand and rides the surf every day, posing a potential hazard at low tide when beachcombers can go right up to the hull.

Kulongoski said he will urge the Emergency Board to approve $19 million earmarked under the settlement for removal of the stern. The remaining $3.1 million will pay for legal costs.

Louise Solliday, director of the Department of State Lands, said the state will seek a contract contingent on Emergency Board approval so that salvage crews can plan to remove the ship next year during the narrow window available in summer when weather and sea conditions will allow the dangerous work.

There have been suggestions that the shipwreck be left alone as a potential tourist attraction.

But the governor said he was concerned both about the potential liability for leaving the shipwreck in place much longer, and with sending a message to shipping companies that the state would not tolerate similar wrecks in the future.

State Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, was a high school principal when the New Carissa ran aground, drawing international media attention that brought a circus atmosphere to the small port city for weeks.

Roblan said he has gone back and forth between whether to remove the ship or to let it stand as a tourist attraction. But he said he was happy with the settlement and can now turn to other issues, such as cutbacks in the commercial fishing season that may force many fisherman out of business.

State Sen.. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, echoed many who attended the Land Board meeting when he praised the settlement.

''Oregonians value the beauty of our coastline and we expect shipwrecks to be removed,'' Kruse said. ''This is something that should have been brought to a conclusion long ago. It is time to haul the rusty hull off the beach.''

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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