Towboat Owner Gets Probation In 2018 River Oil Spill Along West Virginia-Kentucky Border

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — The owner of a towboat that sank and spilled oil into a river along the West Virginia-Kentucky border was sentenced Monday to 18 months probation on a federal pollution charge, and he and his two companies were ordered to pay nearly $1.9 million in restitution.

David K. Smith of Paducah, Kentucky, owned River Marine Enterprises LLC and Western River Assets LLC. His towboat, the Gate City, sank while docked in the Big Sandy River in January 2018, discharging oil and other substances. The city of Kenova, West Virginia, closed its municipal drinking water intake for three days while regulatory agencies responded to the spill, according to court records.

Smith's companies were fined $100,000 each and a federal judge Monday ordered the defendants to pay the restitution amount that prosecutors said was the cost to the Coast Guard to remediate the damage.

A November 2017 Coast Guard inspection of the vessel had determined it could harm public health and the environment due to the threat of an oil discharge. Officials said at the time the vessel had the potential to spill 5,000 gallons (18,927 litres).

An administrative order required Smith to remove all oil and hazardous materials from the Gate City before Jan. 31, 2018, but Smith admitted he had not complied at the time of the spill, prosecutors said. Smith also said a contractor that was supposed to remove oil from the vessel before it sank could not access it safely due to site conditions.