Environmental Enforcement Roundup: ExxonMobil Greenpoint Settlement; Bouchard Settles Buzzards Bay Oil Spill
ExxonMobil to Pay $25 Million in Brooklyn Oil Spill Suit
Exxon Mobil has agreed to pay $25 million and step up its cleanup of a massive underground oil spill near the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint under the terms of a landmark settlement reached Wednesday with the New York Attorney General, the New York Daily News reports.
The deal resolves a 2007 lawsuit brought by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo over the decades old 17-million-gallon spill. The Greenpoint spill has festered below hundreds of homes and businesses and leaked toxins into nearby Newtown Creek for more than 50 years. It is considered larger in volume than the Exxon Valdez Alaska spill.
The proposed consent decree was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Mr. Cuomo said.
“Exxon Mobil is going to be called to task for what happened and they’re going to fix it,” Cuomo said, adding the deal “does what should have been done many, many years ago, decades ago.”
Residents have long worried about the health effects of living over the toxic plume.
“I’m pleasantly shocked that this is even happening in my lifetime,” Greenpoint resident and community advocate Laura Hofmann told the Daily News, adding the cleanup has so far moved “at a snail’s pace. We’re hoping it will go from snail to cheetah.”
$19.5 million of ExxonMobil’s settlement is earmarked for will projects, the largest single payment of its kind in New York’s history, according to a Cuomo statement.
The company will also be responsible for the full cost of cleaning up the oil, as well as contamination in groundwater, soil and vapors, which weren’t included in previous cleanup plans.
Newtown Creek is set to get a separate federal Superfund cleanup.
Exxon has been removing oil from the 55-acre site since the 1990s, but residents and advocates have complained that only the bare minimum was done. The company has now doubled the number of wells it uses to extract the oil – though it’s still unclear how long the full cleanup will take.
“They have to do more, better, faster,” Cuomo said. “This was a nightmare that [residents] lived with for many, many years and I hope that now they realize that even though it’s not going to be gone overnight … the oil will be gone, the contaminated soil will be gone.”
Exxon spokeswoman Kristen Hellmer told the Daily News that the company “is committed to remain in Greenpoint until the remediation effort is done – and done right.”
Environmental group Riverkeeper filed a similar suit against Exxon in 2004 after sounding the alarm over the long-neglected spill.
“Finally, attention has been paid to the Greenpoint community and what it’s been through for six decades,” said executive director Paul Galay.
Transportation Company to Pay More Than $6 Million for Buzzards Bay Oil Spill
The Department of Justice, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the state of Rhode Island announced yesterday 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 oil spill.
Bouchard Transportation is responsible for a spill of approximately 98,000 gallons of oil into Buzzards Bay. The settlement announced yesterday 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,” Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice said in a press release. “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, sea ducks 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 shell fishing 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,” Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said in a prepared statement.
“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, shell fishing 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, according to the Dept. of Justice.
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 spill caused significant injury to the salt marsh on Ram Island.
The proposed consent decree outlining the settlement was lodged in the U.S. District Court of Mass. It is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.
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