FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
THURSDAY, JUNE 20, 2002
TDD (202) 514-1888
UNITED STATES ANNOUNCES MAJOR NATURAL RESOURCE DAMAGES SETTLEMENT FOR FOX RIVER PCB SITE
WASHINGTON, D.C.– The Justice Department announced that a settlement filed today will require the Fort James Operating Company to preserve more than 1,000 acres of wildlife habitat in northeastern Wisconsin and pay an additional $8.5 million for other restoration projects. The settlement provides compensation for injuries to natural resources caused by widespread polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination in the Fox River and the Green Bay.
In addition to its payments for restoration projects, Fort James will pay $1.6 million to help offset natural resource damage assessment costs and other costs incurred by the United States and the state of Wisconsin, as provided by the Superfund law.
"Today's settlement signifies our commitment to recover full compensation for the natural resource damages, either by voluntary settlements or by litigation, if it comes to that," said Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Fort James is a subsidiary of Georgia Pacific Corporation and is one of several companies responsible for the PCB contamination. Fort James is the first of the companies to fully resolve its natural resource damage liability. A December 2001 agreement with Appleton Papers Inc. and NCR Corporation has already provided $20 million in interim funding for natural resource restoration projects in the Green Bay watershed, but that agreement did not settle those companies' ultimate liability for natural resource damages.
PCBs were discharged to the Fox River by several Fox River Valley paper mills that produced and processed PCB-containing "carbonless" copy paper from the 1950s through at least the early 1970s. The PCBs contaminated the sediments in the Fox River and in the Green Bay, and continue to harm wildlife and other natural resources in the area, including fish and birds. For example, PCBs are routinely found in fish in those bodies of water, and health-based fish consumption advisories limit the type and amount of fish from the area that can safely be eaten.
The settlement with Fort James was reached through negotiations conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Wisconsin Department of Justice, as well as the responsible Federal, State and Tribal natural resource trustees, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. The trustees have reviewed and approved the specific restoration projects described in the settlement agreement filed with the court, and will jointly select future projects to be funded with additional money available under the settlement.
The natural resource damages settlement does not resolve Fort James' liability for PCB cleanup. In October 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources released a cleanup proposal calling for dredging and offsite disposal of contaminated Fox River sediments coupled with monitored natural recovery in portions of the River and in Green Bay. The agencies are currently reviewing the public comments they have received.
Today's settlement agreement was filed with the U.S. District Court in Milwaukee and is subject to a 30-day public comment period.