$13 Million Settlement Reached in Buzzards Bay Oil Spill

Barge No. 120, owned by Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc., sits four miles southwest of the port of Woods Hole, after it spilled at least 14,700 gallons of fuel oil into Buzzards Bay, Monday, April 28, 2003. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

BUZZARDS BAY – A proposed $13 million settlement has been struck in connection with the April 2003 Buzzards Bay oil spill that dumped 98,000 gallons of oil into the water.

The deal, which compensates for injury to migratory birds, still needs final approval in the courts.

Bouchard Transportation previously paid $6 million to resolve claims for injuries to shoreline and aquatic resources, coastal recreational uses, and piping plovers.

This week’s settlement will bring the total combined natural resource damages recovery to over $19 million.

It was announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the State of Rhode Island.

On April 27, 2003, the tug Evening Tide was towing the tank barge Bouchard B.120 from Philadelphia to Sandwich for a delivery at the Canal Electric Plant.

The barge grounded on a shoal soon after entering the western approach to Buzzards Bay. Its hull ruptured and the barge dumped No. 6 fuel oil.

Fuel oil from a ruptured barge in Buzzards Bay washes ashore on a beach in Dartmouth, Mass., Monday, April 28, 2003. A 12-foot by 2-foot crack found in the hull of Barge No. 120, owned by Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc., released at least 14,700 gallons of fuel oil into the bay. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

For weeks following the spill, migrating birds such as loons and seaducks were exposed to oil as they fed in offshore waters.

Terns and shorebirds tried to nest in the oiled shoreline along islands and beaches.

Biologists estimated that thousands of birds were killed as a result of the spill, including loons, terns, eiders, dunlins, scoters, and gulls.

Common terns, a species of special concern in Massachusetts, and roseate terns, a state and federally endangered species, suffered severe losses from direct exposure to oil, as well as from habitat disturbance caused by clean-up efforts.

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.

Additionally, scientists estimated that the spill killed more than 500 common loons.

“Coastal Rhode Island and Massachusetts provide important habitats for shorebirds, sea ducks and seabirds, and are destinations for birdwatchers from all over the world,” said Wendi Weber, Northeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“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. We look forward to working with local organizations and state wildlife experts to restore the birds and protect their habitat.”

“Buzzards Bay is a national treasure and known throughout the world for its natural beauty, wildlife, commercial activities, and recreation,” said Attorney General Maura Healey.

“This settlement will allow us to begin the work needed to address the oil spill’s devastating impacts on injured migratory bird species, while sending a message that those who damage our valuable coastal resources will pay a hefty price.”

If the settlement is approved by the court, the Trustees will develop one or more draft restoration plans with public input.

Once finalized, they will implement the projects designed to restore populations of affected bird species to what they would have been if the spill had not occurred.

The federal and state Trustees have used the funds received under the first settlement, in 2010, to implement a variety of restoration projects through partnerships with state and municipal agencies and local organizations.

The Trustees used those settlement funds to assist with the protection of nearly 450 acres of coastal habitats in Fairhaven and Mattapoisett, support quahog, oyster, and bay scallop restoration projects in nine towns around Buzzards Bay, and enhance public access to coastal areas.

Public access projects include the construction of trails at parks and nature sanctuaries in Fairhaven, New Bedford, and Dartmouth, Massachusetts, installation of mobi-mats assisting physically-challenged persons with access to beaches at three Massachusetts state parks, and reconstruction of a public boat ramp in Wareham.

The proposed settlement can be read here.

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