Cleanup of Bouchard Barge Oil Spill Continues

Bouchard Transport Co. barge being offloaded on April 27, 2003 after hitting a submerged object in Buzzards Bay, causing 98,000 gallons of oil to spill. (NOAA)

Bouchard Transport Co. barge being offloaded on April 27, 2003 after hitting a submerged object in Buzzards Bay, causing 98,000 gallons of oil to spill. (NOAA)

Vetting of public projects has begun

By JOYCE ROWLEY/ecoRI News contributor

Brendan Arnett’s organization was one of several that responded in April 2003 to an oil spill that spoiled some 100 miles of coastline in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Nearly a dozen years later, the vice president of watershed protection for the Buzzards Bay Coalition (BBC) is still helping clean up the mess. “Now we’re using restoration funds to put some of the pieces back together,” he said.

A Bouchard Transport Co. Inc. barge had hit rocks off the Westport shoreline, cutting a 12-foot gash in its hull and spilling 98,000 gallons of fuel oil at the mouth of Buzzards Bay. The Bouchard Oil Spill Trustee Council recently completed a final restoration plan to bring the impacted resources back.

The April 27 spill cost the New York-based company an estimated $36 million for the emergency cleanup that eventually de-oiled 85 miles of shoreline in Massachusetts and 17 miles in Rhode Island by 2007. But reparation for the loss of more than 500 shorebirds and 102 acres of coastal habitat will take longer.

A $6 million settlement with Bouchard in 2010 began the public process of vetting 63 proposed projects in impacted communities from Narragansett, R.I., to Falmouth. The final Programmatic Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment released in September narrowed the list to 26 projects in four categories: $4.2 million will be spent on 19 Tier 1 projects, and seven other projects were selected for Tier 2 as funding becomes available.

The balance of the funding is slated for restoring critically endangered piping plover populations and nesting habitat for five bird species on Ram Island, including roseate terns, that were hard hit by the spill.

BBC’s two projects — $960,000 land acquisition for protection of the Nasketucket Bay shoreline and watershed and $365,000 restoration of a fish passageway on the Weweantic River at the old Horseshoe Mill dam in Wareham — will go a long way to fix the damage caused by the spill.

Bouchard coastal access funds will allow BBC to acquire the last piece of its $5.94 million Nasketucket Land Conservation Project — the acquisition is expected to be completed this month. The  411-acre parcel will connect to Nasketucket Bay State Reservation and add 18 acres of public shoreline access.

The property extends north over the Phoenix Bike Path, a regional bike trail that runs from New Bedford Harbor through Fairhaven and Mattapoisett. A 125-acre conservation easement covers part of an active farm near the bike path, and trails leading from the fields to the shore should be completed by next spring, Arnett said.

The Horseshoe Mill dam project will open an estuary blocked for more than a century at BBC’s property in Wareham. Removing the defunct 1930s dam at the mouth of the Weweantic River will open 3.2 miles of river to several species of diadromous fish, notably alewife, blueback herring, sea lamprey and brown trout.

“Horseshoe Mill’s concrete dam and spillway are flooded during the highest tides, trapping marine species behind it,” Arnett said. “The estuary carries two species of river herring, migratory white perch, hog chokers, tomcod and the southernmost population of rainbow smelt.”

Environmental justice forgotten

Last February, the proposal to fund the Round Hill Marsh restoration project in Dartmouth for up to $813,105 was met with strenuous objections from New Bedford residents and others in the impacted area as not meeting federal environmental justice (EJ) mandates.

According to New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, who had been the federal prosecutor on the criminal case against Bouchard, the plan’s lack of funding for EJ projects was “a gross oversight” as less than 5 percent of the money was designated for EJ community projects.

New Bedford’s request for $500,000 toward its Riverwalk project was selected as a Tier 2 coastal access project. A $19,000 project for access improvements at Palmer’s Island in New Bedford was designated Tier 1.

Buddy Andrade, a local activist and president of Old Bedford Village, said Round Hill shouldn’t be on the list, as it was an upland area that didn’t receive oiling during the spill — nor was it an EJ area, he added.

Others at the public hearing early this year suggested that $200,000 each from the Round Hill and Nasketucket Bay projects be re-appropriated to the second tier projects.

New Bedford received $2.9 million towards its Riverwalk from the New Bedford Harbor Trustee Council (NBHTC) as part of the reparations for the PCB contamination in the harbor. Mitchell said the project had been delayed by the PCB cleanup, but when completed, the walkway would connect the North End, an EJ area, with the river.

Round Hill Marsh restoration work, as originally proposed in 2010, would excavate and restore 6 acres of a 15.5-acre filled salt marsh for $2.1 million, under a minimum-build alternative. A full restoration of up to 11.6 acres of the filled salt marsh was priced at $2.9 million.

The adjacent Meadow Shores waterfront community would benefit from reduced flooding with the proposed relocation of the outlet of the Meadow Shores marsh, although the work will be performed on town-owned property near the town beach. Also, a low-earthen berm will be placed to protect Meadows Shore private properties from flooding.

Round Hill Marsh received $1.3 million in funds from NBHTC in 2012 for design and permitting. The draft plan allocated $813,105 to allow the restoration to go forward.

Jim Turek, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) representative on the Bouchard Trustee Council, defended the expenditure, noting the Inner Harbor hadn’t received oiling due to the hurricane barrier. Further, the $500,000 on the Riverwalk was proposed for a later stage of the project such as benches and signage. If funds were left over, they would be made available at that time.

“Our main focus is on restoring the injuries that occurred due to pollution,” Turek said. “Certainly, EJ is given weight as are all federal laws and policies. Our responsibility ... is to clean up the pollution. Dartmouth was injured. Round Hill was funded because that's where the oiling occurred, so shoreline and aquatic restoration was funded.”

However, this fall the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Resources received $2.1 million from DOI Hurricane Sandy disaster relief funds for Round Hill Marsh restoration, bringing the total available funding for the project to $3.4 million.

USFWS and NOAA, partners in the project, continue to request the $813,105 in Bouchard funding, however. The final plan states a separate decision will be made by the Bouchard Trustees Council to determine whether the funds will be allocated to this project or reallocated to Tier 2 projects.