Delaware River Plan Comments Due by Feb. 20

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware are seeking public comment on a restoration plan to repair and improve shoreline and habitats of the Delaware River damaged by a vessel oil spill in 2004.

On Nov. 26, 2004, the Athos I, a large cargo vessel, struck a submerged anchor while preparing to dock in Paulsboro, N.J. The anchor punctured the hull, spilling nearly 265,000 gallons of crude oil into the Delaware River, which resulted in damage to more than 280 miles of shoreline, affecting habitats, aquatic organisms, birds and other wildlife, as well as hindering recreational use of the river.

Under the Oil Pollution Act, NOAA and its state and federal partners evaluate the loss of natural resources from an oil spill and restore the shoreline and habitat to pre-existing conditions. This comment period is the last step before restoration projects are selected and funding is sought from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for implementation. The trustees developed the restoration plan for this large, complex spill after an exhaustive incident response and natural resource damage assessment.

The damage assessment restoration plan recommends nine preferred restoration projects intended to address shoreline injuries and loss of recreational use in the states. Costs for these projects are expected to total more than $20 million. These projects will benefit coastal communities and economies by improving habitat, providing jobs during construction, and creating new opportunities to enjoy the river and its native wildlife.

The proposed restoration projects are:

• Freshwater tidal wetlands restoration at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge (Pa.)

• Creation of oyster reefs (N.J., Del.)

• Darby Creek dam removal and stream habitat restoration (Pa.)

• Habitat restoration (marsh, grassland, and meadow) at Mad Horse Creek Wildlife Management Area (N.J.)

• Shoreline restoration at Lardner's Point (Pa.)

• Blackbird Reserve Wildlife Area habitat restoration (pond and pasture enhancement) (Del.)

• Improving the Stow Creek boat ramp (N.J.)

• Installation of a rock jetty at Augustine Boat Ramp to address ongoing shoaling immediately offshore of the boat ramp (Del.)

• Enhancing the recreational trail on Little Tinicum Island (Pa.)

The draft damage assessment and restoration plan for Athos I is available online. Questions or comments on the plan can be sent via e-mail; by fax to 301.713.1229; or by printed letter to NOAA Office of General Counsel for Natural Resources, GCNR, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 15103, Silver Spring, MD 20910. The deadline for comments is Feb. 20.