Damage caused to the Channel Islands environment over 30 years ago – when 1,800 metric tons of industrial waste were discharged into coastal waters – is now being addressed in the form of a multi-million dollar settlement.
On Saturday, the Channel Islands National Park held a hearing to inform the public about a developing restoration plan for the islands. After 10 years of litigation, Montrose Chemical Corporation has agreed to pay $140 million to the federal government, $30 million of which will be dedicated to restoring the damaged marine environment in Southern California.
The remaining funds – after court charges – will go to the Environmental Protection Agency, which plans to use the money to remove the harmful chemicals still in the ecosystem.
The project will undertake restoration of natural resources harmed by the waste, reintroduce bald eagles and peregrine falcons, provide cleaner fish for anglers, restore injured fish and create projects geared toward seabirds, wetland and estuarine projects, according to the Channel Islands environmental impact report.
“The money [will be] used to help restore what is out of balance, such as pelicans and bald eagles who produce eggs whose shells are too thin to hatch and have become completely extinct,” Channel Islands National Park ranger Tom Dore said. “This money will allow us to restore that balance, making it a very positive thing that what has happened is being addressed by the public.”
The industrial wastes dumped into Southern California coastal waters from the late 1940s to the early 1970s included the outlawed pesticide DDT, as well as PCBs — a group of 206 chemicals used in electrical transformers – hydraulic fluids and paints.
The Natural Resource Trustees — a coalition which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the California Dept. of Fish and Game, the California State Lands Commission and the California Dept. of Parks and Recreation — will head the restoration.
Jennifer Boyce, restoration ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the restoration process will reintroduce natural species to the Channel Islands habitat.
“It’s important to have support and input from the public because they are the ones whose communities have been affected and who have lost the privilege to enjoy natural resources like recreational fishing,” she said. “Restoring the resources injured by DDT and PCBs is a positive step toward putting things back that were taken away by the pesticides, like the bald eagles who are a national symbol and an important resource that have historically bred [on the Channel Islands].”
Restrictions placed on fishing will also help stabilize the fish population, Channel Islands National Park ranger Julie Christian said
“[Restoration] is a step in the right direction in fixing something horrible that has happened. It is hard for fishermen who already struggle financially because they cannot catch juvenile fish,” she said. “Not catching juvenile fish not only enables fishermen to catch bigger fish, it also allows fish to be able to reproduce. While it may be bad for [fishermen] in the short-term, in the long-term it will only prove to be a positive outcome.”
Yvonne Menard, public information officer for the Channel Islands National Park, said the public is essential in developing projects that will restore the environment.
“The purpose of this meeting is to get the public involved in the formal process of developing a draft, and [eventually], over the course of two years, a finalized restoration plan,” she said.