IOSA's future as PRC in the San Juan Islands in doubt

Randall Waugh, president of the Board of Directors Islands Oil Spill Association, sent a letter to the state Department of Ecology and San Juan County Department of Emergency Management informing them of IOSA's financial straits. He also detailed some options regarding the future of the organization that has played a vital role in the San Juan Islands. 

The letter:  

This letter from the IOSA Board of Directors intends to inform you about the current status of the Islands Oil Spill Association (IOSA) regarding its viability and its readiness to respond to spills. This letter will also address possibilities that may help IOSA not only to survive but also improve its service as a spill responder in San Juan County. This letter was written and unanimously approved by a quorum of the Board of Directors of IOSA.

First of all, we need to inform you about our changes in personnel. Such notification is not only integral to our current situation but also required under WAC 173-182-820. Due to a lack of financial resources, IOSA was not able to meet its October payroll or to pay its monthly bills. Consequently, the two paid staff members were laid off, as was the Interim Executive Director. As a further consequence, IOSA is not currently working towards updating its PRC application.

On the hopeful side, several sources of potential emergency funding have been identified, with preliminary indications of limited success. This potential funding will also be described in this letter.

Should these sources of funding prove fruitful and ongoing, an Interim Executive Director will be engaged and expected to cultivate sustainable financial resources while also enhancing IOSA’s ability to safely and competently respond to spills.

Current situation as a Primary Response Contractor (PRC)

Without paid staff and Executive Director-level leadership, the IOSA Board is not confident that, at this time, the call-out of and response by volunteers would be timely. IOSA’s Board is also concerned that due to logistical and equipment issues, the air monitoring for site safety assessment might not be done to acceptable standards and in the required time-frame. In short, IOSA’s Board is not confident in IOSA’s ability to fulfill its obligations at this point in time as a PRC in San Juan County.

IOSA has recently conducted a series of drills and trainings: Five volunteers were trained in late October in a 24-hour HAZWOPER class and another 30 responders attended an 8-hour HAZWOPER level training in early November. IOSA still enjoys visibility and enthusiasm among San Juan County residents. Several new members have joined the Board in spite of the financial situation because of their passion for a timely and effective spill response capability in San Juan County. The entire Board is looking to develop financial support while also making IOSA’s response capability commensurate to the standards of mainland spill response organizations.

Recent History

There is a regulatory requirement for PRC capability in San Juan County. Over the past decade, IOSA has satisfied that requirement for industry at an annual budget that has varied from approximately $120,000 to $200,000 annually. In hindsight, IOSA has been careful with the money it received. This work has been done with enormous dedication by the IOSA staff, the response volunteers and the volunteer Board of Directors with aging marginal equipment and very little redundancy. Without paid staff, IOSA finds itself unable to continue to fulfill the PRC requirement.

Several weeks ago, as our financial crisis became increasingly apparent, the IOSA Board engaged Mr. Scott McCreery of Fairlead International LLC, as a consultant to serve as an Interim Executive Director to bring IOSA to a proper state of readiness. Since then, he has identified the path forward and has made some progress in sourcing tentative, one-time emergency funding. He also negotiated an extended deadline for IOSA’s conditional PRC with Ecology, reached out to the petroleum and shipping industries, the Treaty Tribes in Washington State, and even the shipping and response industry in British Columbia for emergency funding.

IOSA’s Board believes that if there were enough immediately available cash and promises of future money to retain proper staffing, it would be able to complete the work of updating IOSA’s PRC application and accomplish the goal of getting IOSA ready for oil spill response in San Juan County.

Potential sources of emergency and long-term funding

There is indication that at least one and possibly up to three refineries may soon donate $25,000 each to IOSA as charitable donations. Two of these refineries have also recommended IOSA apply to their respective charitable foundations for grant money with the inherent uncertainty that implies.

IOSA will certainly make these applications, but the timing of these charitable grant monies will likely lag behind our immediate needs. If all these donations materialize, they could provide enough money to pay for the work and equipment needed to return IOSA to a minimum acceptable level of operation as a PRC.

While IOSA recognizes and greatly appreciates the support efforts being offered by Puget Sound’s refineries, the Board also recognizes that it is the commercial shipping industry – both tank vessel and non-tank vessel – for which IOSA’s PRC status fills a regulatory requirement. The Board is hopeful that the commercial shipping industry will provide a timely and significant response to our request for immediate and ongoing funding.

In the long-term, IOSA will need significantly more money to continue as a PRC in San Juan County. The level of funding needed to sustain IOSA as an organization operating at the State and Industry standards will be several times higher than the levels that have been provided in the past. This will require a new level of commitment by Industry to fulfill their requirement to meet the Planning Standards for San Juan County.

The residents of San Juan County have been uniquely committed to volunteering their time and equipment to ensure there is oil spill response capability in the remote and environmentally, culturally and economically important waters of the San Juan Islands. This commitment continues as evidenced by the number of participants who attended our recent 8 and 24-hour HAZWOPER trainings. There is significant interest in San Juan County for IOSA to continue to exist. IOSA has a long history of responding promptly and effectively to spill from vessels that are not subject to the PRC requirements and San Juan County Planning Standard. This spill response capability is very important to the citizens of San Juan County who are very concerned with the health of the marine ecosystem surrounding the islands.

The future of IOSA

Since it was founded in 1988, IOSA has operated with two or three paid staff and many volunteer responders. The volunteer responders have not been paid for their time spent in training or drills, nor have they been paid for the use of their personal boats used in drills.

Many of the people who have participated in this operational model are now aging beyond their ability to safely function at this level. To effectively recruit and retain new and younger responders, this model will have to change. Responder training, drills and stand-by status will need to be paid for. Staff will also need to be increased to effectively manage these responders, their training, maintenance of equipment, record keeping, regulatory compliance, fundraising, information management, etc. In addition, these staff will need salaries that will attract and retain qualified professionals who can run IOSA at standards commensurate with mainland spill response organizations.

To effectively meet San Juan County Planning Standard response time requirements, IOSA will need full response capability on each of the three main islands: Lopez, Orcas and San Juan. This would ensure timely notification and mobilization of response resources across the islands. This would also provide equipment redundancy to ensure continuous response capability as boats cycle through maintenance and repair. IOSA will also need qualified responders on standby on each of the three islands to do initial site safety assessments and 2 and 3-hour boom delivery and deployment. This new model will be IOSA’s operational goal if it continues as an organization.

This more comprehensive level of organization and equipment will enable IOSA to provide cost effective services to Industry that is far less expensive than it would be for Industry to place dedicated full-time staff, equipment, and vessels in the Islands. Certainly, IOSA has access to many dedicated and trained people who already reside in the County who would only be paid occasionally.

To achieve this goal of local response, which is quick and effective, the petroleum and shipping Industries must decide if IOSA has value to them in meeting contingency plan requirements.

If Industry sees value in IOSA’s continued existence, either:

1. IOSA remains on-call while Industry provides personnel and equipment for short-term logistical and response support to IOSA while IOSA reorganizes and pursues ample, ongoing funding to continue progress on fulfilling the conditions of the PRC; or,

2. IOSA temporarily ceases to be on-call and Industry assumes IOSA’s response capability while IOSA reorganizes. Over the next six to twelve months, IOSA will pursue funding at a level sufficient to support operations at State and Industry standards and, when ready, IOSA will reapply for PRC certification to resume its role as a resident PRC in San Juan County.

If Industry does not see value in IOSA’s continued existence:

Industry replaces IOSA as the means of meeting the San Juan County Planning Standard under WAC 173-182-370.

IOSA’s Board of Directors is eager to return IOSA to its role as a PRC with full, unconditional status. With adequate funding, the Board will be able to hire staff and continue progress towards full PRC status. We look forward to your response. Thank you for your support and sharing our mutual dedication to protecting the Salish Sea.

Please respond to Randall Waugh, at:

Thank you very much.


Randall Waugh, President of the Board, writing as instructed by the unanimous agreement of the IOSA Board of Directors.

P.S. The IOSA Board requests that the WA DOE facilitate the appropriate notifications of plan holders.


1 comment

  • Jim Freese
    Jim Freese Friday, 09 November 2018 10:47 Comment Link

    Over many years, the industry has argued repeatedly for more and larger tanker traffic. They have always stated they were prepared to meet any spill effectively. This dialog has gone on before, and especially after, the Exon Valdez spill. IN the aftermath of that crisis we were told a spill in the San Juans would be worse that the one in Alaska. And still the assurances were offered.

    What's changed? When with the petroleum industry pay it's own way? Grant applications assure us of nothing.


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