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Making Waves: Episode 84 (September 29, 2011)

You're listening to Making Waves from NOAA's National Ocean Service. I'm Troy Kitch.

(Cosco Busan Settlement)

Back in November 2007, a container ship named the Cosco Busan struck a tower of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, releasing 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the central portion of San Francisco Bay -- that’s the heavy oil that powers the ship. This spilled oil spread with the tides, moving around the Bay and out into the open ocean. It also washed up along miles of coastline to the north and south of the Golden Gate Bridge.

In the two years following the spill, scientists from NOAA, many other federal agencies, and the state of California conducted over 70 different studies to weigh the damage to the environment, to birds and fish, and to the people who use the Bay. What they found is that the fuel killed over 6,800 birds, damaged or killed 14 to 29 percent of Pacific herring eggs spawned in spill locations over the 2008 winter, oiled 3,367 acres of shoreline habitat (these are areas like sandy beaches, mudflats, marshes, seagrass beds and rocky shores), and resulted in the loss of over one million recreational user-days because of closures to the Bay and area beaches to recreation and fishing.

This assessment was carried out by 'trustees.' or stewards of the public’s natural resources. When spills like this happen, many different state and federal government agencies come together to act as trustees for the public to figure out the damage done and to make a claim to compensate the public for injuries to wildlife, habitat, and recreational uses. 

For the Cosco Busan spill, trustees included NOAA,the California Department of Fish and Game, California State Lands Commission, , the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management. Together, these agencies have drawn up a list of proposed restoration projects to speed natural recovery of the Bay and to compensate for the impacts of the spill.  

Now, these planned restoration projects are one step closer to reality.  On Sep. 19, a $44.4 million legal settlement was reached with Regal Stone Limited and Fleet Management Limited, the companies responsible for the Cosco Busan. The bulk of this -- $32.3 million --  will go towards restoring natural resources injured by spilled oil and to improve Bay Area recreational opportunities affected by the spill. 

And that's where you come in. The trustees have released a Draft Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan that is open to public comment through Oct. 31. The plan proposes projects to address specific injuries. Here’s how it breaks down. About $5 million is proposed for bird restoration, $4 million for habitat restoration, $2.5 million for eelgrass restoration to help with fish spawning habitat, and $18.8 million for recreational use improvements. An additional $2 million from the settlement will fund restoration planning, administration, and oversight, with any unused funds to be spent toward more restoration.  

We have a link in our show notes to NOAA’s Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program website, where you can access the draft plan. You’ll also find details here about how to send in comments and, if you live in the San Francisco Bay region, when and where you can attend one of two public meetings on Oct. 19. 

Once all comments are incorporated and the final plan is completed, restoration projects will commence to benefit the fish, wildlife, and people who live and visit the San Francisco Bay region.

NOAA's Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program serves as trustee on behalf of the public to protect and restore coastal marine resources.  The program, which was formally created in 1992 following the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, is made up of experts from NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration, the Restoration Center, and General Counsel for Natural Resources.

The Cosco Busan spill is one of nine natural resource damage settlements just in the past twelve months for waste sites and oil spills nationwide that NOAA and co-trustees have completed. The tally for these nine settlements: $117 million. Over the past 20 years, the DARRP program has brought in almost $600 million from responsible parties for restoration on injured resources.

And that leads to today's Ocean Fact. Do you know what N-R-D-A stands for?

Answer:  Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA for short) is the process that federal agencies like NOAA, together with the states and Indian tribes, use to evaluate the impacts of oil spills, HAZMAT incidents and hazardous waste sites, and ship groundings on natural resources both along the nation's coast and throughout its interior. 

NOAA and these other entities, referred to collectively as natural resource trustees, work together to identify the extent of resource injuries, the best methods for restoring them, and the type and amount of restoration required.

(CLOSING)

And that's all for this week, but that's not the last word on this topic. Stay tuned for an upcoming episode in November to hear more about assessment science and natural resource restoration straight from two experts who work in NOAA's Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program office. 

And speaking of experts, you won't want to miss the next show. We have NOAA's Chief Geodesist on tap to talk about how scientists are working to create a new, high-tech model of the Earth's shape by taking measurements of gravity. The goal? To measure heights anywhere in the nation with an accuracy of two centimeters.  Why do we need to do this? Well, you'll have to tune in to find out.

 If you have any questions or comments about today's topic, the National Ocean Service, or this podcast, send us a note at nos.info@noaa.gov. And don't forget to visit us online. We're at oceanservice.noaa.gov.

 We'll return in two weeks. 

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