Kentucky Towboat Owner Pleads Guilty for River Oil Spill in West Virginia

Owner of Sunk Towboat Pleads Guilty to Polluting River

In 2018, a towboat met an unfortunate fate in the Big Sandy River, straddling the border of West Virginia and Kentucky. It took a nosedive, not just submerging itself but also releasing oil and other substances into the river.

This unexpected mishap spelled trouble for Kenova, West Virginia. The city had to shut down its municipal drinking water intake for a not-so-fun three-day period. The owner of this now-infamous towboat has taken the legal route and entered a guilty plea for a federal pollution charge.

Who's the Guilty Party?

The individual at the center of this aquatic debacle is David K. Smith, a 55-year-old hailing from Paducah, Kentucky. He stood before the federal court in Huntington and confessed to discharging refuse into navigable waters, a federal offense.

Mr. Smith was the proprietor of two enterprises – River Marine Enterprises LLC and Western River Assets LLC. His troubled vessel, the Gate City, took a dive in January 2018, spilling oil and other substances into the river. This incident led to the temporary closure of Kenova, West Virginia's municipal water supply, creating quite a ripple in the local community.

Trouble Was Foreseen

Trouble was brewing before the unfortunate plunge. Back in November 2017, a Coast Guard inspection had already sounded the alarm. The vessel had been marked as a potential hazard to public health and the environment, all thanks to its oil spill risk. At the time, it was noted that this towboat had the potential to spill up to 5,000 gallons of oil.

Unheeded Warnings and Broken Promises

An administrative order was issued, demanding that Smith remove all oil and hazardous materials from the Gate City before January 31, 2018. However, it seems Smith didn't take this order too seriously. He admitted that he hadn't complied with the directive at the time of the unfortunate spill. He also cited the inability of a contractor to safely access the vessel for oil removal due to challenging site conditions.

Penalties Looming

Smith now faces the looming threat of legal penalties. He could be sentenced to a year behind bars and a hefty $100,000 fine. His companies are not off the hook either, as they might be slapped with fines of up to $200,000 each. The sentencing date has been set for February 26, 2024.

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