Tesoro will pay for ’98 spill with protectionprograms

KAPA’A — There was never any question that Tesoro Hawai’i Corp., the O’ahu

company responsible for an oil spill that closed Kaua’i East Side beaches and

left dozens of seabirds dead two years ago, would evetually compensate the

island for its losses.

The question was how and how much.

To answer

these questions, the Natural Resource Trustees who unveiled a proposed

Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment for the Tesoro oil spill

Wednesday night at a Kapa’a Library meeting attended by only one

reporter.

To address the “how”, the trustees proposed a plan of ‘natural

recovery’ essentially acknowledging that the environment would best recover

when left to its’ own natural evolutionary process devoid of direct human

action.

But proposed compensatory programs in the restoration plan will

help the island in other ways, as in protecting the Kaua’i’s shearwaters from

predators and cleaning up netting from East side beaches.

“How much” will

not be known for sure until the plan is passed by the trustees, although

Kathleen Ho from the Office of the state Attorney General estimates the price

tag to be over $500,000.

The trustees’ plan must address both primary and

compensatory types of restoration. Primary restoration refers to actions taken

that will restore the environment to its original state prior to the oil

spill.

Tesoro, however, will be held accountable for the damages already

encurred as a result of their oil spill.

The trustees, who consist of four

governmental agencies led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and include the

Hawai’i Department of Health, Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources,

and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, spent the better part of

the last two years studying the oil spill effects on Kaua’i’s natural resources

and finding comparable compensatory actions.

The trustees’ plan provides

for restoration directed towards habitat protection and enhancement, and

various seabird projects.

The trustees acknowledge that it is impossible to

determine exact environmental losses thus when selecting appropriate

compensatory projects, they err on the side of caution.

Still, there is no

calculated formula to determine the compensation for an animal covered in crude

oil and the process becomes even more difficult when it is impossible to know

the exact number and species affected.

Dan Palawski, assistant field

supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, explained part of the

difficulty in assessing the Tesoro oil spill’s impact on Kaua’i’s wildlife was

that the oil traveled such a great distance before anyone realized the extent

of the spill. Therefore, it was impossible to know how many birds were covered

in oil at sea and unable to reach land. Also Kaua’i’s bird population has a

large foraging range and diverse nesting behavior making it difficult to

adequately assess the impact of the oil spill on an entire colony.

To

compensate for the birds killed by the oil spill, the Trustees propose

establishing predator control programs for affected bird populations on island.

The trustees cite studies showing that the decrease in the shearwater

population is largely due to predatory mammals, along with collisions into

power lines.

The proposed plan calls for traps and toxicants used to

diminish the number of predatory animals, namely cats and rats, near the birds’

nesting colonies.

Likewise, another proposed project is to build a predator

control fence at Kilauea Point where many of the endangered birds

nest.

There were also 15 offshore islands that serve as bird sanctuaries

and may have been affected by the oil spill. Predator control methods and

habitat enhancement for these islands are also part of the proposed project to

compensate the injured bird populations.

The second part of the Trustees

proposal calls for the removal of abandoned fishing nets from the affected

habitats, namely the shoreline, inter-tidal, and sub-tidal areas affected by

the oil spill.

A 1999 helicopter survey of the coastline was supposed to

help assess the monk seal population possibly affected by the Tesoro spill.

Instead, 133 nets were observed, all of which pose a hazard to threatened and

endangered species. Thus, the net removal was deemed an appropriate restoration

project as it would improve the very area and animals injured as a result of

the Tesoro spill.

The final proposal by the Trustees provides $10,000 in

compensatory damages for recreational time lost at Fuji’i and Nukoli’i Beaches

due to the oil spill closure and clean-up. The money will be earmarked for

beach clean up and used, as the county deems appropriate.

The restoration

plan solely addresses the environmental impact of the Tesoro oil spill and does

not include any economic compensation to businesses and individuals. According

to Tesoro Manager of Environmental Affairs, David Hoffman, Jr., the corporation

has already paid a total of $20,000 in claims. Tesoro also paid a total of

$76,000 in fines:$6,000 in fines as determined by a Coast Guard review

board, $15,000 in state civil penalty fines and another $55,000 towards an

environmental project as part of the company’s settlement with the

state.

Nathan K. Hokama, Tesoro Communications Manager said Tesoro spent

another 2.5 million on the initial clean-up and Natural Resource Damage

Assessment fees which funded the studies used to determine the best

environmental recourse.

As the final stage in the drafting process, the

restoration plan is currently subject to public review and comments until July

10, 2000 after which time the plan will likely be finalized. A time frame has

yet to be established for Tesoro’s actual implementation of the plan, but Gary

Gill, Deputy Director for Environmental Health stated publicly that Tesoro has

been a compliant participant in responding to the oil spill and cooperating

with the government agencies in this drafting process.

Any written

comments concerning the restoration plan may be sent to Gail Siani, NOAA Office

of General Counsel, Natural Resources Northwest, 7600 Sand Point Way N.E.,

Seattle, Washington 98115-0070.

A complete copy of the restoration plan is

available at www.darcnw.noaa.gov/tesoro.htm

Under Hawai’i state laws, the

trustees serve as guardians of the environment and are responsible for

assessing damages and planning a restorative course of action for Tesoro to

follow.

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