Settlement in MA Oil Spill Case

Monday, October 23, 2017 @ 02:10 PM gHale

Fourteen years after a barge spilled 98,000 gallons of oil into Buzzards Bay, MA, state and federal officials released a proposed settlement that would require the transportation company in charge of the vessel to pay more than $13 million for damages to migratory birds and their habitats. 

In April 2003, a Bouchard Transportation Company barge traveling to the power plant on the Cape Cod Canal in Sandwich struck rocks south of Westport. The crash ruptured the barge’s hull and spilled thousands of gallons of oil into the bay, damaging salt marshes, beaches, and hundreds of birds such as loons, seaducks, terns and shorebirds. 

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The settlement proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island was filed in U.S. District Court, where it must be approved before it ends up finalized. 

If the settlement is approved, it would bring the amount of money paid to resolve claims filed by the Natural Resource Damages Trustee Council, a group comprised of several state and federal agencies, up to $19 million. Bouchard previously paid $6 million for claims on shoreline resources, piping plovers, and other damage recovery efforts. 

And, while the cleanup efforts have concluded, the $13 million would go to help the future of the birds that were affected.

Common and roseate terns, the latter of which are endangered, were hit hard by the spill, according to a statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Not only were they exposed directly to the oil, but clean-up efforts also disturbed their habitats. 

“The adult common terns’ deaths and nesting habitat disruptions were estimated to lead to the loss of thousands of tern chicks that would likely have been born in the absence of the oil spill,” the statement said.

“Today’s settlement means we can help those migratory birds affected by the Bouchard oil spill, and help the communities that benefit from that ecotourism,” Wendi Weber, Northeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in the statement. “We look forward to working with local organizations and state wildlife experts to restore the birds and protect their habitat.” 

The spill also prompted changes in shipping regulations and state lawmakers promptly passed the Oil Spill Act of 2004, which included a host of legal requirements for barges traveling through the area and the regulators who watch them. It also led to an extended legal battle between the state of Massachusetts and the U.S. Coast Guard over rules related to tug escorts and double-hull barges.

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