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Restoration Program Frequently Asked Questions
What is Natural Resource Damage Assessment?
What is Natural Resource Damage Assessment?
Natural Resource Damage Assessment is: A process which natural resource trustees use to determine the extent of injury to trust resources caused by an oil spill or a release of a hazardous substance. The goal of the Department of the Interior’s Restoration Program is to restore natural resources injured by contamination by implementing natural resource damage assessments.
The Department of the Interior, along with State, Tribal, and other Federal partners, act as trustees for our natural resources. Trustees identify the injured natural resources, determine the extent of the injuries, recover damages from the party(ies) responsible for the injuries, and plan and carry out natural resource restoration activities. Where trusteeship overlaps, trustees benefit from acting together as a trustee group. Natural resource trustees include:
During a natural resource damage assessment, the natural resource trustees gather information on impacts (called injuries) to trust resources. This information is used to determine appropriate restoration projects. Injuries include impacts on the natural resources as well as impacts on the Public’s ability to use a site while it is contaminated.
Natural Resource injuries include:
Lost Public use:
Damages are the amount of money required to compensate the public for the injury, destruction or loss of natural resources. These are paid for by the responsible party to restore, replace, or acquire the equivalent type of the natural resources and the services they would have provided.
Injuries are identified based on existing data and studies developed as part of the damage assessment process. Several pieces of information are critical to determine injury:
Once this information is gathered, potential restoration options are developed and presented to the responsible party.
A variety of methods are used to determine damages:
Restoration includes both returning injured resources to the condition they would have been in if the oil spill or release of a hazardous substance had not occurred and replacing the services that were lost while the habitat was contaminated. Restoration encompasses rehabilitation, replacement and acquisition. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) objective is to restore trust resources which have been injured by oil spills or hazardous material releases. The Service’s primary restoration goal is to enhance and protect its trust resources.
Examples of restoration include:
Restoration goes beyond cleanup or remediation. Remediation only addresses removal of hazardous substances and preventing further releases from the source. In some cases, contamination that has already migrated away from the site is not addressed by the site cleanup.
The party(ies) responsible for the oil spill or release of hazardous substances pay(s) for restoration, not the American taxpayers. To determine the appropriate payment amount, the trustees first collect information on the injuries to natural resources. They use this information to determine the damages caused by the oil spill or hazardous substance release and to develop potential restoration projects. The trustee agencies then attempt to negotiate a settlement with the responsible parties for the cost of restoration, the cost of conducting the damage assessment, and any costs associated with the public’s “lost use” of the land or natural resources. In the rare instances where a settlement cannot be reached, the trustees can file a claim against the responsible party(ies) in a court of law.
The responsible party may choose to conduct the restoration themselves, with trustee supervision, or provide funding to the trustees for restoration. If funds are provided to the trustees, the trustees can use the money to do the restoration themselves or they can hire contractors to do the work. In addition, trustees encourage local community groups to become involved in the restoration efforts. Occasionally trustees are able to integrate restoration efforts with those of community groups providing further benefit to the public.
The primary benefit of restoration is that injured natural resources are returned to the condition they would have been in if the spill or release of hazardous substances had not occurred. Restoring our natural resources benefits not only the fish and wildlife that depend on these resources but also the local community and visitors to these areas. People are able to fish and swim in cleaner water and enjoy the sights and sounds of the abundant wildlife which a healthy environment can support.