Whoever heard of a government body saying, "No, don't give us the money, here's something better to spend it on"? But that's just what the Makah Tribe has said to some $600,000 it's to receive to update its fishing nets as compensation for the Tenyo Maru oil spill, which fouled the Olympic coast (including Makah territory) in 1991. That sum is one-tenth of a judgment (with interest) against the colliding ships' owners; the state, federal, and tribal governments are the trustees charged with deciding how to spend that windfall to "restore resources" (i.e., wildlife) damaged by the spill. (See "Spilt Decision," SW, 7/1.)
After five years of negotiation, the three parties had finally hashed out a plan, the first of its kind in this state. Then a new idea surfaced: use $400,000 in accumulated interest to help station an emergency rescue tug at Neah Bay, something the state, tribe, and green groups have long sought for the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which lacks such protection against oil spills. Makah and state officials endorsed this addition; so did the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But the BIA's parent agency, the Department of the Interior, blocked it on grounds that, whatever its merits, using a tug to prevent future spills isn't proper "restoration."
Now, however, with a decision on the Tenyo Maru allocation expected as early as next week, the question's opened up again. The tribe argues that "the funds would be more effectively spent on the rescue tug," since it's hardly doing any net-setting with salmon so depleted. "We're concerned about all the other life down on the beach," says tribal vice-chairman Hubert Markushtan. NOAA and Olympic National Marine Sanctuary officials have continued urging funding the tug; NOAA attorney Bob Taylor says the US Commerce Department, NOAA's parent (which had deferred to Interior on the funding) is now "reconsidering" the idea.
The tug proposal seems timely on several scores. The US Coast Guard is due to finish an epic risk assessment of spill protection on the strait next June. "That will mean new safety measures then," says state oil-spill prevention manager Joe Stohr. "We're real interested in interim protection before then." Meanwhile, the Navy is preparing to surplus a high-powered salvage tug, the USNS Narragansett, that's better geared for the rescue job than local commercial tugs. But tug companies may be wary of the five-year lease the Navy offers, pending a long-term plan for the strait. Rescue-tug advocate Fred Felleman suggests the Navy offer an initial one-year trial lease.
This might be a good year for it. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center forecasts another La Ni�i.e., wet and cold—winter. That means more chance of storms, and accidents, out on the windy waters.
"Outing the Amazonians," Mark Fefer's piece last week on Amazon.com's new "Purchase Circles" reminded me why I don't buy my books there. No, it's not some high-minded attachment to independent bookstores (though I'm all for them). It's simple paranoia.
Smart marketing speaks to our sense of inadequacy. The Purchase Circles let you see which books and videos are selling best at various institutions, presumably so you can tailor your taste to match that of the school you didn't get into or the company you wish you worked for. (I'd like to know how Thomas Harris' Hannibal is doing at the New York School of Culinary Arts. Come to think of it, I don't want to know.) Fefer turned the tables by using WebTrends to see what seattleweekly.com features Amazon employees clicked onto, and when (early afternoon, apparently, when work starts to drag).
That reminded me of the time a few years ago when a pretentious East Coast magazine asked me to do an overnight piece on this hot new "on-line bookstore" out in Seattle. Amazon still hadn't gone public, Jeff Bezos wasn't a billionaire, and no one else imagined the Web could have a Wal-Mart. Bezos gave me the tour, the high point of which was checking out the many titles that a certain celebrated Microsoft executive had ordered from Amazon. I felt a little queasy about intruding on his reading list, which appeared with a point and a click, but I was mightily impressed at the breadth of his interests in paleontology, archaeology, and other subjects even more arcane. Now, however, whenever I feel lazy enough to just click on Amazon instead of chasing down a book, I think of all the friends, acquaintances, and (for all I know) sworn enemies who work there and who just might see my book list scroll across the screen. I'm sure it wouldn't look so impressive.
Driving Mr. Jeff
Continuing that tour, I gave Bezos a ride down to the Amazon.warehouse in SoDo—in the rusty Datsun with 237,000 miles on it that I donated to El Centro a few months later. As I drove, I recalled the time a reporter I knew in New Mexico snagged an interview with F. Lee Bailey, who'd breezed in to do a one-day star turn in some big trial. Okay, said Bailey—if you give me a ride to the airport, 60 miles away. That paper didn't pay enough to buy a car, and the only one my buddy could borrow was an old Plymouth even uglier than my Datsun. Bailey took it like a royal jerk and clammed up for most of the ride.
Bezos, by contrast, was as ebullient as ever and entirely gracious about riding in my rust wagon. So stop picking on Amazon, people—its chairman is a lot nicer than F. Lee Bailey.