Jeffersonville, Ind.-based American Commercial Barge Line LLC (American Commercial) agreed to acquire and preserve 649 acres of woodland wildlife habitat near New Orleans and pay over $2 million in damages related to a 2008 oil spill, the Department of Justice announced Monday.
This agreement is in addition to $1.32 million previously paid by ACBL for damage assessment and restoration planning costs to resolve federal and state claims for injuries to natural resources resulting from the 2008 oil spill from one of its barges.
The U.S. and Louisiana concurrently filed a civil complaint with a proposed consent decree. The complaint seeks damages and costs for injuries to natural resources resulting from ACBL’s July 2008 discharge of approximately 6,734 bbls. (282,828 gals.) of No. 6 fuel oil into the Mississippi River upriver of New Orleans. The complaint alleges that the spill resulted from a collision that occurred when the ACBL tug Mel Oliver, which was pushing a barge upriver, veered directly in front of the MV Tintomara, an oceangoing tanker ship sailing downriver. The oil spill spread more than 100 miles downriver and covered over 5,000 acres of shoreline habitat. The oil spill caused significant impact and injuries to aquatic habitats within the Mississippi River and along its shoreline, as well as to birds and other wildlife. The oil spill forced the closure of the river from River Mile Marker 98 (just upriver from New Orleans) to the Southwest Pass Sea Buoy, from July 23, 2008 until July 29, 2008. ACBL, the Coast Guard, and the state of Louisiana were involved in extensive response and cleanup efforts.
Under the proposed consent decree, ACBL will acquire (at an estimated purchase price of $3.25 million) and preserve 649 acres of woodland habitat, consisting of hardwood forested wetland, swamp, relic wetlands, and open waters (i.e., canals), near the Mississippi River in upper Plaquemines Parish, La. (Woodlands Parcel). The Woodlands Conservancy, a local nonprofit that currently manages the property for recreational and educational use, will hold title to the property and a conservation servitude will forever limit the use of the Woodlands Parcel to passive recreation, thereby protecting and preserving the ecological benefits of the property.
American Commercial will also pay $2.07 million to compensate for natural resource damages from the spill. Federal and state trustees will jointly use the cash payment to perform projects to restore or ameliorate the impacts to aquatic life, birds, river batture, wetlands, marshes, and recreational uses along the Mississippi River. The projects, which are described in the final Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment, Mississippi River Oil Spill, Gretna – New Orleans, July 23, 2008, include habitat restoration activities at the Woodlands Parcel and marsh creation in the Pass-a-Loutre State Wildlife Management Area. ACBL has paid $1.32 million to reimburse the federal and state trustees for its past damage assessment and restoration planning costs, as required under OPA and OSPRA.
“This settlement secures full compensation for the damaged resources, including the permanent preservation of 649 acres of critical wildlife habitat along the Mississippi River just a few miles from downtown New Orleans,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The restoration projects funded by this settlement will restore wildlife and wetlands, and enhance recreational opportunities for Louisiana’s residents and visitors.”
“Safeguarding the environment is one of the highest priorities for the Department of Justice,” said U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana. “Ultimately, this case demonstrates the DOJ’s firm commitment, along with our federal and state partners, to utilize the full panoply of legal remedies available to protect and remediate vital water sources and the diverse ecosystems found in southeastern Louisiana.”
“Local communities and economies in Louisiana depend on the Mississippi River and the vibrant ecosystems it supports,” said Director Nicole LeBoeuf of NOAA's National Ocean Service. “We are pleased to join with industry and our co-trustees to restore vital habitats, wildlife, and outdoor recreational areas injured by the oil spill, and look forward to working with the public to implement restoration projects.”
“The wildlife resources and outdoor recreation opportunities of the lower Mississippi are critical to Louisiana’s rich natural heritage,” said Regional Director Leopoldo Miranda-Castro of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s South Atlantic-Gulf & Mississippi-Basin Regional Office. This settlement will allow for the restoration of lost resources and services and will facilitate locally-driven conservation and management that ensures equitable access to the connected local communities.”
Monday’s action was filed by the Department of Justice and the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office, Department of Public Safety & Corrections (LOSCO) on behalf of the federal and state trustees for natural resources.
The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court review and approval. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.