City of Seattle Agrees to Natural Resource Damages Settlement Using New Market-Based Approach
Settlement Is the First to Use Credits from Restoration Projects Approved by Natural Resources Trustees but Financed and Constructed by a Restoration Development Company
A settlement has been reached with the city of Seattle, Washington, to resolve its liability for injured natural resources at the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund Site in Seattle by funding restoration projects, the Justice Department announced today. To restore the natural resources, the city of Seattle has purchased restoration credits from Bluefield Holdings, a company that develops restoration projects. This is the first natural resource damages settlement to fund restoration through the purchase of credits in restoration projects developed by a restoration development company. Each of the contemplated restoration projects address natural resource injuries at the site and the trustees will oversee and ensure the projects are constructed and implemented appropriately.
The settlement is a collaboration involving the city of Seattle, Bluefield Holdings and the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund Site natural resource trustees: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of the Interior (DOI), the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Suquamish Tribe and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. The city of Seattle purchased restoration credits from Bluefield to account for the city’s share of the injuries to natural resources from hazardous substances released into the Lower Duwamish Waterway. The city’s credit purchase totals approximately $3.5 million worth of restoration, when calculated using the cost of projects developed directly by the natural resource trustees. In addition, the city will make available a number of properties along the Lower Duwamish Waterway for potential restoration project development by Bluefield.
“The city of Seattle is acting responsibly to resolve its liability for injuries to natural resources by acting to restore those resources by creatively utilizing restoration credits,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Everyone comes out ahead when parties resolve their liability in this way, and the benefits of this resolution, cleaner waterways, will be enjoyed by Seattle residents and generations to come.”
Projects developed by restoration development companies can have advantages over more traditional restoration approaches. For responsible parties that prefer not to develop restoration projects themselves, purchasing credits can be less expensive than paying the natural resource trustees to build a project. And while natural resources trustees must certify and monitor restoration projects built by others for credits generated by those projects to be suitable to settle natural resource damages liability at the impacted site, this arrangement is much less time-intensive for the trustees than designing and constructing projects themselves.
“Settlements like this demonstrate that when trustees work with responsible parties to focus on natural resources we can restore the environment without litigation,” said Regional Director Robyn Thorson of the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Region 1.
“Today's agreement shows that natural resource trustees' obligation to restore injured resources and compensate for lost use can be met by innovative approaches like the restoration credits approach used here,” said Lois Schiffer, General Counsel of NOAA. “NOAA is pleased that the Bluefield Holdings’ projects will compensate for the natural resource injuries that occurred from the releases of hazardous substances by responsible parties into the Lower Duwamish River as well as those from Harbor Island and Lockheed West Superfund Sites. These innovative approaches save money and that assure the public that the right kind of restoration will be implemented for each site on an expedited basis.”
The Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund Site is one of the largest Superfund sites in Washington State and includes the stretch of the Duwamish River that flows into Elliott Bay in Seattle. Over the years, a number of industrial and municipal operations have polluted the site with hazardous substances. The natural resource trustees have previously settled with The Boeing Company for natural resource damages related to its polluting activities along the Lower Duwamish Waterway.
The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Justice Department Web site at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.