Hotel unaware of oil tank that caused spill

Larry and Sharon Johnson of Seaside look out over an oil spill near the Cannery Pier Hotel.

Cannery Pier Hotel management says it was unaware of a tank under one of its piers that likely caused an oil spill on the Columbia River last week.

The Coast Guard said Saturday that oil from the 4,200-gallon, 20-foot tank probably caused the sheen that was concentrated near the hotel but extended 5 miles along the river. The amount of oil discharged and the exact cause are still unknown.

“We didn’t know about the tank until the oil started forming last week,” said Don West, the hotel’s general manager. “Pretty much, it kind of went crazy from there.”

A containment boom has been placed in the water, and wildlife has not been affected, according to the Coast Guard. The sheen was also noticed at the West Mooring Basin and the Hammond Mooring Basin, where cleanup operations have been completed.

Cleanup efforts near the hotel are ongoing. An excavator and a barge will be brought to the area on Friday as crews prepare to deconstruct part of the pier and access the tank, Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read said.

The sheen was first reported by hotel employees Jan. 18. Inclement weather did not allow the Coast Guard to respond until Jan. 19, when the sheen was detected in other places.

The piers underneath and to the side of the hotel have had several owners in the past few decades — including the Union Fishermen’s Cooperative, Bumble Bee tuna cannery and, most recently, the Port of Astoria. The tank was likely placed more than 70 years ago, but knowledge of its existence was lost somewhere between the ownership turnover, West said.

“It’s just sitting there and no one knew it was under there,” hotel spokeswoman Donna Quinn said. “It would have been nice for them to have disclosed that through the years.”

Robert “Jake” Jacob bought the docks in the 1990s, repaired one of them and built the luxury hotel on top. Water surrounding the tank is leased — rather than owned — by the hotel.

Initial plans for further development on a dock next to the hotel — more rooms, a restaurant and a shop — were scrapped due to high costs, West said. The oil tank is located under that dock.

The hotel will be involved in paying for the cleanup, and while the total cost is unknown, management fears it could be substantial, Quinn said. A number of prospective guests have even called the hotel, which has been open during the cleanup, to check if it had closed.

“We’re just biding our time and hoping this doesn’t shoot us in the head,” West said.

Situated along the river, the hotel is prized as a destination for its picturesque views. The hotel has coordinated with environmental groups during the spill.

“We really take our responsibility for the health of the estuary seriously,” Quinn said.

The sheen has raised questions about whether a similar event could happen in other former cannery sites around Astoria. Once a booming cannery town, many of the piers that used to house the operations have been left in ruin.

“Who knows, unfortunately, what could be underneath all the canneries by piers?” Quinn said.

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