WASHINGTON – Pepco and government officials announced a final plan Thursday to restore Patuxent River habitat that was damaged two years ago by an oil pipeline leak that damaged 17 miles of Southern Maryland shoreline.
The $2.7 million compensatory restoration plan, which is intended to speed the recovery of wildlife affected by the spill, will be paid for by former pipeline owner Pepco and by ST Services, the pipeline’s former operator.
Officials expect the plan to be approved within a month and completed within a year.
The April 2000 spill, considered Maryland’s worst environmental disaster, dumped more than 120,000 gallons of oil into the Patuxent south of the Chalk Point power plant.
It affected about 76 acres of wetlands and 10 acres of beaches, and about 5,432 pounds of fish and shellfish and 376 muskrats were killed, according to federal investigators.
The plan calls for the creation of six acres of wetlands to filter sediments and other pollutants and to provide habitat for the fish, shellfish and other wildlife affected by the spill.
It also calls for the creation of a five-acre oyster reef and one acre of beach habitat aimed at helping the diamondback terrapins. The spill killed 122 terrapins, whose hatchlings fell by 10 percent in 2000 because of lingering oil contamination.
The restoration reaches beyond Maryland. Because ruddy ducks that were affected in the spill spend nine months of the year in the Prairie Pothole region of the Midwest, the companies agreed to give the region money for protective easements for the ducks there, said Jim Hoff, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Another seven projects to improve use of the campsites, parks and piers along the shoreline are included in the plan.
Hoff said NOAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maryland departments of the Environment and Natural Resources and the companies worked cooperatively to design the plan. It is based public comments and on the results of 25 studies of the spill’s damages, he said.
A decree signed by both companies and the Department of Justice was submitted Wednesday to the U.S. District Court for Maryland, said Sharon Shutler, a NOAA attorney who worked on the case. After a 30-day public comment period starting Friday, the court will decide on whether or not to accept the plan.
Shutler said she expects the court to approve the plan within the next five weeks. After that, a team will begin the restoration projects immediately and should be finished within a year.
Pepco has already paid more than $60 million to clean up the spill, which occurred when a section of company’s 51-mile pipeline ruptured near its Chalk Point facility in Aquasco.
Federal investigators later found that the spill occurred because of an undetected flaw in the pipeline. The National Transportation Safety Board also criticized Pepco for a miscommunication about the size of the spill to emergency response teams, which allowed it to spread quickly.