When 140,000 gallons of oil burst from a ruptured pipeline and into the Patuxent River in April 2000, it was considered one of Maryland’s worst-ever environmental disasters.
That disaster, though, is now producing new wetlands, oyster reefs and beaches and recreational facilities for the damaged river.
State and federal agencies in December announced plans for $2.7 million in restoration efforts aimed at replacing natural resources damaged by the spill.
“Through the restoration process, we will create and protect critical habitat, such as oyster reefs, wetlands and waterfowl nesting areas, benefiting the natural resources of the Patuxent River,” said John Wolflin, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office. “These projects also move us toward the larger goal of restoring the Chesapeake Bay.”
The restoration projects will be funded by Potomac Electric Power Company and ST Services, the pipeline’s owner and operator, under the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was passed in the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.
Under the act, federal and state agencies, acting as trustees for the public, assess the damage to natural resources and services caused by an oil release and select appropriate restoration projects.
In this case, the trustees included the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Maryland Departments of Environment and Natural Resources.
The spill covered 76 acres of wetlands and 10 acres of shoreline with oil, and killed 553 ruddy ducks and 143 other birds, 376 muskrats and 122 diamondback terrapins.
Also, 5,432 pounds of fish and shellfish were lost, as were 4,974 pounds of benthic communities. In addition, an estimated 125,000 recreational trips on the river were affected by the spill.
To address the damage, the trustees are requiring 11 restoration efforts, including the creation of a 5.7-acre marsh, the enhancement of 1.7 acres of beaches for terrapin nesting habitat, and the creation of a 5-acre oyster sanctuary.
In addition, the firms will purchase perpetual protective easements in the Prairie Pothole region of the upper Midwest, which serves as a breeding ground for ruddy ducks.
To help compensate for lost recreational opportunities stemming from the spill, the restoration plan calls for constructing two paddle-in campsites for canoeists and kayakers, improving boat access and constructing a fishing pier.
“Federal and state agencies, in collaboration with PEPCO and ST Services, have arrived at a resolution that will ensure future generations are able to enjoy the natural splendor of the Chesapeake Bay,” said James Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, and NOAA’s deputy administrator.