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DNREC, other state and federal agencies to receive $27.5 million to restore Delaware River from 2004 Athos I oil spill impacts

NEWS FROM THE DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL
For more information, contact: Robert Newsome, Site Investigation and Restoration Branch, 302-395-2600, or
Michael Globetti, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902.

DNREC, other state and federal agencies to receive $27.5 million to restore Delaware River from 2004 Athos I oil spill impacts

DOVER (Nov. 15, 2010) – State and federal natural resource agencies including Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control have reached a settlement of $27.5 million for ecological restoration of the Delaware River following an oil spill six years ago from the tanker Athos I. DNREC, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey will collectively receive the funds from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF) to implement 10 restoration projects, including three in Delaware.

On November 26, 2004, the single-hulled tanker struck three submerged objects, including a large anchor, while preparing to dock in Paulsboro, N.J. The anchor punctured the hull, spilling nearly 265,000 gallons of crude oil into the Delaware River. The spill’s impact extended to more than 280 miles of the shoreline, affecting habitats, aquatic organisms, birds and other wildlife, as well as impairing recreational use of the river and its shores.
Under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) provisions of the federal Oil Pollution Act (OPA), state and federal natural resource agencies serve as natural resource trustees to evaluate the loss of resources due to a spill and to restore the habitat and resources to pre-spill conditions.
In the months following the spill, the trustees assessed the injuries in detail and jointly selected the 10 projects best suited to restore the specific resources and recreational uses from among 61 proposals submitted by the public and by non-governmental organizations.
“This settlement will help improve the environmental quality of the Delaware River and Bay/Estuary, and enhance public enjoyment of this wonderful natural resource that we share with Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” said DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara. “We look forward to using the approximately $1.2 million awarded to Delaware for several restoration projects, including wildlife habitat enhancement at Blackbird Reserve State Wildlife Area; a boat ramp upgrade in New Castle County; and the creation of oyster reefs in the upper Delaware Bay.”
“The three projects selected within Delaware will compensate those resources and activities most injured in our state by this oil spill – namely wildlife, benthic (river- and bay-bottom) aquatic resources and recreational boating,” said Rob Hossler, a DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife manager who served as lead Delaware trustee throughout the assessment process and will oversee Delaware’s restoration projects.
The projects include the 7th Street Park boat ramp on the Christina River. The ramp was a very popular launch site for recreational boaters, but had been knocked out of commission by strong tidal currents that collapsed part of it, making it unsafe and unusable. It’s now expected to be rebuilt using Athos settlement funds.
Another restoration project is enhancement of agricultural lands at the state-owned Blackbird Reserve Wildlife Management Area in southern New Castle County. The project will partially compensate for loss of almost 6,000 geese and swans from the spill. The Division of Fish and Wildlife will restore these lands into a combination of shallow wetland ponds, pastures, and agricultural food plots to provide suitable wintering habitat for migratory geese. In total, approximately 2.2 acres of ponds, 16 acres of pasture, and 23.6 acres of food plots will be established.  .
The third project is oyster reef restoration, with the Division of Fish & Wildlife creating 26 acres of new oyster reef at the “Over the Bar” oyster bed in the Delaware Bay. Shell will be placed on the bay bottom to accommodate additional natural spat (oyster larvae) that settle there. The newly-created reef would be closed to harvesting for 5 years, to allow for full restoration of the spill-related losses.
Under the Oil Pollution Act, responsible parties in spills have limited liability for cleanup and NRDAR costs. Claims exceeding the liability limit, including the current NRDAR claim, are paid from the OSLTF, which is funded primarily by a 5-cent-per-barrel tax on oil imports. Athos I cleanup costs exceeded the OPA liability limits, so in 2009 the trustees submitted a claim to the OSLTF. After reviewing the claim, the Coast Guard agreed to provide $27.5 million for restoration projects, including more than $1.2 million for Delaware projects. Approximately $3 million was provided for trustees' past assessment costs, including more than $171,000 spent by DNREC.
“These funds will assist a number of excellent restoration projects throughout the area that was affected by the spill,” said Pat Montanio, Director of NOAA’s Office of Habitat Programs. “From wetland enhancements to dam removals to shoreline improvements, these projects are designed to compensate the public for the loss of nature’s benefits following the spill.”
Vol. 40, No. 382
                                                                                                                    
 
Michael Globetti
 
Public Affairs-Office of the Secretary
Dept. of Natural Resources
and Environmental Control