R.I., Mass. settle with Buzzards Bay oil spill company

By Keith Loria | Nov 16, 2010


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- The Department of Justice, the commonwealth of Massachusetts and the state of Rhode Island have announced that they have settled with parties allegedly responsible for the Buzzards Bay oil spill.

The Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc. and its affiliates have agreed to pay over $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.

"Today's settlement holds accountable those responsible for the spill that impacted 100 miles of New England coastline," Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division of the Department of Justice, said. "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 settlement is in addition to the almost $1.6 million in damage assessment costs for federal and state governments.

"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," Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Director W. Michael Sullivan said.

The U.S. Coast Guard first reported the oil spill on April 27, 2003.

The barge Evening Tide was en route from Philadelphia to the Mirant Power Generating Facility in Sandwich, Mass., towing the unmanned tank barge Bouchard B. 120, which was carrying No. 6 fuel oil.

The barge grounded on a shoal soon after entering the western approach to Buzzards Bay, rupturing its hull and allowing the release of oil into the water.

Over the next few weeks, winds and currents drove the spilled oil ashore, affecting approximately 100 miles of shoreline in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Cleanup took months and hundreds of loons, seaducks and other birds were killed as a result of the spill. The beaches were also heavily impacted by the spill. Additionally, the oil spill adversely affected the public's use of Buzzards Bay waters and the adjoining coastline following the closure of shellfishing beds throughout the bay and a restriction on boat and beach access.

Bouchard Transportation had already agreed to a $10 million fine in a criminal plea agreement as a result of the spill. In that case, the company was charged with negligently piloting the Evening Tide, resulting in the death of migratory birds, a violation of the Federal Migratory Bird Act.

Trustees in this case included 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," Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said. "This settlement, while not a substitute for prevention, will help to restore those precious resources."

The settlement money will go towards compensating 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.

"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," Ian Bowles, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said. "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 settlement did not include injuries to the birds. The trustees continue to discuss these injuries with the responsible parties and it is believed that additional damage assessment costs will come later.

If deemed necessary, the federal and state trustees are able to use portions of the settlement funds, after public input, to restore salt marsh and river herring runs. The trustees may also use some of the money 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.

"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," Acting Assistant Administrator of NOAA's National Ocean Service David Kennedy said.

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