State seeks input on how to spend settlement funds from oil spill

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(From the Delaware Department of  Natural Resources and Environmental Control)

Federal and state agencies, including Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, have received settlement funds to restore conditions for fish, birds, sensitive habitats, horseshoe crabs and recreational use of the Delaware Bay areas that were impacted in 2006 by an oil spill from the vessel Bermuda Islander.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the State of Delaware (collectively the Trustees) have reviewed potential restoration projects and are proposing to fund three restoration projects. The Draft Bermuda Islander Restoration Plan/Environmental Assessment has just been released and can be found on the DNREC website. The draft assessment is available for 30 days for public comment.

Sometime on or around April 25, 2006, the Bermuda Islander, a container ship, spilled an undetermined amount of oil into the Delaware Bay, impacting approximately 40 miles of shoreline and affecting habitats, aquatic life, and birds, as well as hindering recreational use of the bay.

Under the Oil Pollution Act, affected states and designated federal agencies are Trustees that evaluate the damage to and loss of natural resources from an oil spill and restore the habitat and resources to pre-existing conditions. The owners of the Bermuda Islander and the Trustees reached a settlement, with the responsible party agreeing to pay $270,000 to restore injured natural resources and reimburse the Trustees for their past assessment costs.

“This oil spill primarily impacted migratory shorebirds, beach shorelines and recreational use in the heart of the Delaware Bayshore,” said DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara. “The Trustees have drafted a plan that effectively addresses the restoration of these resources, with the focus on the Mispillion Harbor, the ecologically fragile centerpiece of the annual interaction between horseshoe crabs and the migratory shorebirds who feed on their eggs. The plan outlines projects to enhance the marsh roosting habitat for shorebirds, restore the beach for horseshoe crabs and place educational signage for birders and visitors about the importance of this area to both species.”

“We are very pleased that the Delaware Bay ecosystem damaged during the oil spill now has the resources for us to work with our partners (including DNREC) to restore the marsh, shoreline and other habitats wildlife depend upon,” said Genevieve LaRouche, Supervisor, Chesapeake Bay Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Our goal is to restore habitat for local fish and wildlife so future generations can enjoy the natural beauty of Delaware Bay.”

”We’re looking forward to hearing from the public and then getting to work,” said Perry Gayaldo, Deputy Chief of NOAA’s Restoration Center.

Within the Draft Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment, the Trustees describe the injured natural resources, the projects they considered, and ultimately the three preferred alternatives that were selected.

The three proposed projects are:

– Marsh restoration of the Fitzgerald Property near the mouth of the Mispillion River.

– Restoration of a Mispillion Harbor (Swain’s) Beach, and.

– Educational signage and/or kiosks along the Delaware Bay beaches informing the public about the ecology and importance of horseshoe crabs and the area as a migratory shorebird stopover.

The Trustees invite the public to review and provide comments on these proposed projects and the Bermuda Islander Restoration Plan/Environmental Assessment from now until to March 7, 2013. The plan is available for review online at www.fw.delaware.gov. Comments may be emailed to Dnrec.BermudaIslanderComments@state.de.us or mailed to Rob Hossler, DNREC Division of Fish & Wildlife, 6180 Hay Point Landing Road, Smyrna, DE 19977.

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