DEP PROPOSES $19 MILLION IN DELAWARE WATERSHED PROJECTS TO COMPENSATE PUBLIC FOR RESOURCES HARMED BY 2004 OIL SPILL
(09/01) TRENTON - The Department of Environmental Protection is proposing more than $19 million in ecological restoration and enhancement projects for the Delaware River watershed as compensation to the public for natural resource injuries caused by a massive spill from the oil tanker Athos I in 2004, acting Commissioner Mark N. Mauriello announced today.
“The Athos spill was one of the worst environmental disasters ever to hit our region, harming thousands of birds, affecting many miles of shoreline, impacting wetlands and disrupting recreation,” Commissioner Mauriello said. “If approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, this will be one of New Jersey’s largest natural resource damage settlements ever and will lead to restoration of degraded ecosystems, creation of valuable oyster habitat, and improved fishing and boating opportunities for the river and bay.”
The federal government and the states affected by the spill are taking public comment on proposed projects to be funded by the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Administered by the U.S. Coast Guard and supported by a federal tax on the oil industry, the trust fund is managing the natural resource damage claims resulting from the Athos spill because the operator of the tanker has reached a liability cap on spill-related damages and activities.
The tanker discharged more than 263,000 gallons of crude oil after puncturing and slicing its hull on an abandoned, submerged anchor while attempting to dock at the Citgo asphalt refinery along the West Deptford-Paulsboro border on Nov. 26, 2004. Some 280 miles of shoreline were affected by the spill.
The DEP’s Office of Natural Resource Restoration has proposed three key restoration and enhancement projects. The largest involves restoration of 63 acres of degraded wetlands, creation of 35 acres of wet meadows, and restoration of 100 acres of grasslands at the Mad Horse Creek Wildlife Management Area along the upper bay in Salem County. This project accounts for approximately $18.5 million of New Jersey’s proposed watershed improvements and will improve habitats needed by birds, fish and other wildlife.
The DEP is requesting another $335,000 for creation of 51 acres of oyster habitat in the bay through shell planting. In addition to enhancing the southern New Jersey oyster industry, the reefs will enhance habitat for aquatic life, increase food for fish and birds, and improve water quality.
The department has also proposed $460,000 in improvements to the state boat ramp on Salem County’s Stow Creek. The work, including rebuilding and extending the boat ramp, will improve public access to the lower river and the upper bay.
Natural resource damages compensate the public for the lost public benefits and enjoyment of natural resources caused by pollution. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the three affected states are serving as trustees on the public’s behalf in seeking these natural resource damage claims. In calculating the claims, the trustees conducted extensive assessments of the spill’s impact on wildlife, shorelines, underwater ecosystems and wetlands.
Public comments are being accepted by NOAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the three states prior to formal submission of the Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The proposed plan can be found at www.darrp.noaa.gov.