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.
And it is in addition to the fine of $10 million levied on Bouchard under a 2004 plea agreement in which the company also was placed on probation for three years.
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.
Hundreds of loons, seaducks and other birds were killed as a result of the spill.
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.
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.