Feds Reach $44 Million Deal for Bay Bridge Spill

     (CN) – The owners and operators of a ship that crashed into the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 2007 agreed Monday to pay $44 million in damages and penalties for the crash and resulting oil spill.
     The container ship COSCO Busan crashed into a support tower on the bridge on Nov. 7, 2007, spilling more than 50,000 gallons of fuel oil.
     A subsequent investigation found the ship’s pilot, John Cota, was affected by his prescription medication, and that the ship’s crew had not effectively communicated.
     National resource trustees estimated that the spill killed more than 6,000 birds, impacted between 14 and 29 percent of the winter’s herring spawn, and spread oil across more than 3,000 acres of shoreline habitat.
     Cota was sentenced to 10 months in prison for the crash, and the ship’s owner, Fleet Management, was fined $10 million in criminal penalties for falsifying the ship’s records after the crash.
     After several lawsuits by federal and state government agencies, the ship’s owners and operators reached a settlement agreement of $44 million.
     Of the settlement money, $18.8 million will go to lost human uses of the shoreline and bay. The Justice Department said it is one of the largest such recoveries for any oil spill in the United States.
     The National Park Service will receive around $9.75 million to improve coastal access in the area, and the remaining $9 million will go to either local government or a grant program to fund recreational projects in the affected areas.
     Federal and state trustees will also publish a notice soliciting comments from the public for a damage assessment and restoration plan. The trustees will then select projects with around $32 million from the settlement.
     Of the money, $5 million will be used to restore bird populations, $4 million to restore habitats, $2.5 million for fish and eelgrass restoration, and $18.8 million to improve recreational uses of the shoreline.
     “This settlement marks an excellent collaboration of agencies at all levels to restore and preserve San Francisco Bay,” said Bruce Wolfe, executive officer of the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board in a statement. “But it also reminds us that the amount of oil spilled in this incident is the equivalent of what automobile traffic deposits in the bay every year. All of us, as stewards of the bay, must be diligent in doing all we can to protect it.”

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