WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the state of Rhode Island announced today that Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc. and its affiliates will pay more than $6 million to settle a portion of the federal and state natural resource damages claims for the April 2003 spill of up to 98,000 gallons of oil into Buzzards Bay. The settlement announced today is in addition to damage assessment costs for federal and state governments of almost $1.6 million.
“Today’s settlement holds accountable those responsible for the spill that impacted 100 miles of New England coastline,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “This settlement will restore shoreline and aquatic habitats vital to commercial and recreational fisheries, enhance breeding grounds for shorebirds such as the federally-threatened piping plover, and improve opportunities for public recreational use.”
The U.S. Coast Guard first reported an oil spill on April 27, 2003. At that time, the tug Evening Tide was towing the unmanned tank barge Bouchard B. 120, which was carrying No. 6 fuel oil. The barge was in route from Philadelphia to the Mirant Power Generating Facility in Sandwich, Massachusetts.
The barge grounded on a shoal soon after entering the western approach to Buzzards Bay, rupturing its hull and allowing the release of the cargo. In the days and weeks following the grounding, winds and currents drove the spilled oil ashore, affecting approximately 100 miles of shoreline in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Cleanup of the oiled shoreline took months, including at Barney’s Joy and Hoppy’s Landing, where a heavy oil coated boulders and cobble.
Hundreds of loons, seaducks and other birds were killed as a result of the spill. The beaches, which function as breeding and forage habitats for shorebirds, such as piping plovers, were impacted by the spill. In addition, the oil spill adversely affected the public’s use of Buzzards Bay waters and the adjoining coastline, by causing the oiling and temporary closure of shellfishing beds throughout the bay and restricting boat and beach access.
Bouchard Transportation earlier reached a criminal plea agreement as a result of the spill, agreeing to a fine of $10 million. In the criminal matter, the company was charged with negligently piloting the Evening Tide resulting in the death of migratory birds in violation of the Federal Migratory Bird Act.
The natural resource trustees in this case include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the state of Rhode Island.
“The Bouchard oil spill in Buzzards Bay caused extensive damage to our shoreline, to wildlife in the area, and to Massachusetts businesses and citizens who rely on Buzzards Bay for their livelihoods and for recreation. This settlement, while not a substitute for prevention, will help to restore those precious resources,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.
“I am pleased to join Attorney General Coakley and our federal partners in announcing this settlement, which will go a long way toward compensating the public for the environmental damage caused by the Bouchard oil spill,” said Ian Bowles, Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. “As the commonwealth’s NRD trustee, and with the public’s input, I intend to make sure that these funds are put to the highest and best use to restore the vital wildlife habitat, and important aquatic resources and recreational areas of Buzzards Bay.”
“The state of Rhode Island is pleased that restoration work for the natural resources impacted by the 2003 oil spill into Buzzards Bay can now begin,” said Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director W. Michael Sullivan.
The settlement will, once approved by the court, compensate the public for injuries to shoreline and aquatic resources, piping plovers and coastal recreational uses, such as beach access, shellfishing and boating that depend on the natural resources affected by the spill. The current settlement does not address injuries to terns, loons and other birds. The trustees continue to discuss these injuries with the responsible parties and also to pursue the recovery of additional damage assessment costs.
The federal and state trustees may use portions of the settlement funds, after public input, to restore salt marsh and river herring runs. In addition, the trustees may use some of the settlement funds to fund a potential project to stabilize a portion of shoreline of Ram Island, which is a state-owned wildlife sanctuary in Massachusetts and serves as critical nesting and fledgling habitat for roseate terns, a federally listed endangered species. The 2003 oil spill caused significant injury to the salt marsh on Ram Island.
“NOAA looks forward to continuing to fully participate with our co-trustees and the public to identify and implement successful restoration projects benefiting fishery resources and their habitats, as well as other restoration activities along the Massachusetts and Rhode Island coast,” said David Kennedy, Acting Assistant Administrator of NOAA’s National Ocean Service.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director Marvin Moriarty added, “We are pleased that a settlement has been reached. These funds will help increase summer breeding success for piping plovers and other shorebirds.”
The proposed consent decree outlining the settlement was lodged in court today and is available at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html. It is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.