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Oil company, in wake of 2004 spill, agrees to clean up three sites on Vashon

ConocoPhillips has agreed to pay $588,000 to restore three ecologically important areas on Maury Island as part of a proposed settlement over an oil spill in Dalco Passage in 2004 that fouled hundreds of acres of shoreline, closed parks and harmed wildlife.

The spill, which released between 1,000 and 7,200 gallons of crude oil into Puget Sound and that went unreported for several hours, spawned a sheen of oil that touched 15 miles of shoreline along Maury Island, Colvos Passage and Quartermaster Harbor.

Under the proposed settlement, filed in U.S. District Court Monday and crafted by state, federal and tribal officals, ConocoPhillips admitted no guilt in the spill but agreed to pay the costs of three far-reaching restoration projects:

A salt marsh would be re-established at King County’s Dockton Park, where 350 feet of bulkheads would be removed and the shoreline regraded. The proposal also includes removal of boat houses, creosote pilings and other debris in the intertidal zone.

Habitat restoration would take place at the state-owned Maury Island Aquatic Reserve, where invasive plants would be removed and replaced with native vegetation.

And at Piner Point, on the southern tip of Maury, funds would pay for the removal of 225 feet of creosote-treated bulkhead, replacing it with natural vegetation. The county and the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust recently protected 1,500 feet of ecologically significant shoreline at Piner Point, the area most affected by the 2004 spill.

In a news release, state and federal officials praised the decree, which is expected to be finalized after a month of public comment.

“The settlement agreement and the restoration projects being proposed are the final chapter for this tragic spill that damaged Puget Sound and had so many economic, environmental, cultural and emotional ramifications,” Dale Jensen, the state Ecology Department’s Spills Program Manager, said.

Beth Bordner, with the Vashon land trust, also said the decree is significant, especially in light of what it promises to do at Piner Point, where conservationists have wanted to see the creosote-treated bulkhead removed for some time.

“If this allows for that to happen, it’s great,” she said.

Doug Williams, a spokesman for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, agreed.

“Given that Piner Point experienced the heaviest concentration of oil, it’s only appropriate that the work ... be carried out there,” he said.

But Mike Sato, a spokesman with People For Puget Sound, said it’s unfortunate the corporation never “declared their guilt or acknowledged what they did.”

The spill by the oil tanker Polar Texas, which took place around 7 p.m. on Oct. 13, 2004, wasn't reported until a tugboat operator, many hours later, noticed the sheen in the water. State and federal agencies quickly responded, ultimately spending $2.23 million to clean up the spill

Still, Sato said, it’s appropriate that the funds go towards restoration projects on Vashon.

“It’s going to come back to Vashon-Maury Island, and that’s the right kind of thing,” he said. “The money should go into the ground.”

Read the full text of the consent decree and restoration plan at the NOAA Web site.2

Send comments to: NOAA, Jason Lehto (jason.a.lehto@noaa.gov), 7600 Sand Point Way, N.E., Seattle, 98115. (206) 526-6665.

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