For Immediate Release
August 8, 1999

Contact: Gordon Helm, NOAA
(301) 713-2370
John Iliff, NOAA DARP
(727) 570-5440
Kristine Roselius, DEP, FL
(850) 488-1073
Tom MacKenzie
404/679-7291

NEWS from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Department of Environmental protection

Restored Wetlands Will Be Returned to Pinellas County as Part of Settlement for Tampa Bay Oil Spill

Six years after three ships collided and spilled oil into Tampa Bay, Pinellas County officials are to be given an 11-acre restoration site on Cross Bayou by those responsible for the spill. The restoration at this site is part of an $8 million settlement agreed to earlier this year resolving Federal and state claims for the spill. The 11 acre wetlands project creates salt marsh and mangrove habitats to offset damage done to natural resources by the 1993 oil spill.

In a ceremony today, federal and state officials will celebrate the construction of the Cross Bayou restoration project and the planned transfer of the land to the people of Pinellas County. A representative of the vessel owners and operators will symbolically offer management and ownership of the Cross Bayou parcel to Ellyn Kadel, real estate manager for Pinellas County. The actual title transfer, however, will not occur until after the project is certified complete and County Commissioners formally approve the transfer, expected to occur later this month.

The vessel owners, Bouchard Transportation Co., Inc. and Maritrans Operating Partners L.P., and their underwriter The West of England P & I Association, expressed their pleasure at the consummation of this last stage of the natural resource damage assessment/restoration process that has been ongoing since the day of this unfortunate incident. Both companies and their underwriter have long histories of environmental responsibility (Maritrans having won the Coast Guard's Benkert Award in 1998 for excellence in environmental responsibility) and are proud of their participation in what has become the model for cooperation between responsible parties and government trustees.

"I am pleased that the shipping companies, Department of Interior, NOAA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection were able to work together to make the Cross Bayou Restoration Project a reality," said DEP Bureau of Emergency Response Chief Phil Wieczynski. "This project, and others to come, promotes our vision for a healthier environment for Florida."

The Cross Bayou restoration project is an important step in restoring the natural resource injured by the 1993 Tampa Bay oil spill. These 11 acres of new salt marsh and mangrove habitat, in combination with the other projects that will be implemented under this settlement, ensures that healthy coastal resources continue to be available to residents of Tampa Bay and the public.

"Cross Bayou reminds us that unforeseen events can occur in an instant that significantly impact our environment," said Sallie Parks, Chairman of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners. "Rather than focusing on monetary amends, the parties involved are determined to restore this natural system. We are pleased to add this important habitat to Pinellas County's Endangered Lands to protect and nurture."

In August of 1993, three ships collided near the entrance of Tampa Bay, Florida. The collision released 32,000 gallons of jet and diesel fuel, and gasoline, and 330,000 gallons of #6 fuel oil into Tampa Bay, injuring birds, sea turtles, mangroves, salt marshes, sea grasses, and shellfish beds. In January of this year, the State of Florida, the federal government and vessel owners agreed to an $8.0 million settlement that included funding for restoration projects to compensate for natural resources damaged by the oil spill. Those responsible for the spill also agreed to restore the Cross Bayou site and reimbursement of response and assessment costs.

"The restoration undertaken at this site should set an example for other vessel owners and operators," said Terry Garcia, assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere at the Department of Commerce. "Taking responsibility for restoring what they harmed helps guarantee that a healthy coastal environment will exist for generations to come."

State and federal officials worked closely with those responsible for the spill to forge a settlement under which the Bouchard Transportation Company, Inc., Maritrans Operating Partners L.P. and Tsacaba Shipping Co. Inc. implemented this project with oversight from the natural resource trustees. Trustees -- government agencies responsible for restoring natural resources injured by the Tampa Bay spill -- include the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

In early 1997, the three responsible parties purchased the 11-acre Cross Bayou property for habitat restoration and construction began in May of 1999. The site was cleared of debris and channels were created to allow for tidal flushing of the area. Some 22,000 plugs of smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) have been planted on the site and mangroves will either recolonize the site naturally or will be planted by the responsible parties, providing habitat for oysters, fish, birds and sea turtles.

"This settlement allows us to help the threatened and endangered sea turtles and migratory birds in southwest Florida affected by this and other disasters," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Director Sam D. Hamilton. "It also benefits everyone who values their beauty and realizes their importance to the ecosystem. "

Additional restoration projects are currently planned or underway at other sites to restore damaged resources. Trustees will use $2,500,000 to restore recreational uses that were lost by the oiling of about 13 miles of beaches in Pinellas County. Spilled oil restricted the use of area waterways and disrupted use of area beaches. Ideas have been solicited for projects to restore these recreational losses and a draft restoration plan should be available in late 1999.

Six acres of historical wetland will also be restored as a result of the settlement for the Tampa Bay oil spill. At Joe's Creek, approximately $133,000 will be spent removing exotic invasive species and planting the site with native vegetation to restore habitat for fisheries, shellfish and waterfowl. The project will be implemented over the next year by the Surface Water Improvement and Management Program of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and will compensate for injuries to the water column and sediment.

For more information about Cross Bayou or other restoration projects, please contact: John Iliff, NOAA Habitat Restoration Manager, SE Region, 9721 Executive Center Drive N., St. Petersburg, Florida 33702, (727) 570-5391 or John.Iliff@noaa.gov

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Release #: R99-067


1999 News Releases

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