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DuPont Agrees to Settle Mercury Contamination Case, DOJ Says
The U.S. Department of Justice announced DuPont has agreed to settle claims stemming from the release in the 1930s and 1940s of mercury from a former company facility in Waynesboro, Va., which contaminated more than 100 miles of river and associated floodplain in the South River and South Fork Shenandoah River watershed, and will spent about $50 million according to the settlement's terms.
DOJ and theDepartment of the Interior joined with the Commonwealth of Virginia to announce the proposed settlement. In addition to a cash payment of slightly more than $42 million, DuPont will fund the design and implementation of significant renovations at the Front Royal Fish Hatchery, estimated to cost up to $10 million.
Settlement terms are outlined in a proposed consent decree filed in a federal court in Harrisonburg, Va.
DuPont will provide the funds to government natural resource trustees, who will oversee the implementation of projects compensating the public for the natural resource injuries and associated losses in ecological and recreational services, such as fishing access. The trustees, through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Commonwealth of Virginia, invite feedback on actions to restore the river and wildlife habitat and improve public lands and recreational resources. A draft restoration plan and environmental assessment (RP/EA) was released Dec. 15 for a 45-day public comment period; the plan results from stakeholder meetings beginning in 2008 to determine how best to compensate the public.
"This remarkable settlement will help restore the precious natural resources of the South Fork Shenandoah watershed, bringing lasting benefits for future generations of Virginians to enjoy," said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "This joint action with the Department of the Interior and the Commonwealth of Virginia is yet another testament to the value and effectiveness of cooperative federalism in action, and I am grateful to all of our partners for the efforts that brought us to this resolution."
"Today's settlement, the largest of its kind in Virginia history, is the culmination of a coordinated effort by countless partners at both the state and federal level," said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. "Thanks to their hard work, Virginians and the environment will benefit from unprecedented investments in land conservation and habitat restoration. I applaud and appreciate the meticulous monitoring by our state agencies, the thorough analysis of the scientific advisory committee, and DuPont's willingness to come to the table and make this happen."
According to the federal agency, since 2005, DuPont and the trustees have worked cooperatively to assess and identify potential restoration projects to benefit natural resources affected by mercury releases from the DuPont facility. "Years of input from community leaders and partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia have led us to propose over $50 million worth of restoration that will be at no cost to taxpayers," said Wendi Weber, Northeast regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Fish, wildlife, land, and waters, as well as the city of Waynesboro and other communities affected by decades of mercury release, will benefit from natural resource projects improving water and stream quality, protecting and restoring wildlife habitat, and increasing river access for recreation."
Mercury released into the South River from the DuPont facility in the 1930s and 1940s continues to persist in the environment, and monitoring data collected during the past 20 years indicates mercury levels remain stable, with no clear decreases over time, DOJ reported.
The trustees will host a public meeting to summarize key components of the draft restoration plan and answer questions. The meeting will be held Jan. 10, 2017, at the Waynesboro Public Library lower level meeting room from 6 to 8:30 p.m.