Criminal Investigation & Settlement Infofor Bouchard No. 120 Oil Spill

Bouchard Criminal Plea Agreement Finalized

Related page: All Costs of the B120 Oil Spill (updated 2010)  |

On Friday, November 19, 2004 a federal judge announced that a $10 million guilty plea criminal settlement agreement had been finalized between the Bouchard Transportation Company, and the federal government ( read the New Bedford Standard Times from 11/19/04, “Bouchard pleads guilty, agrees to $10M fine “) to learn more. Of the $10 million, $7 million would go to the North American Watershed Conservation Act (NAWCA) fund, $2 million would go to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (for the cleanup of spills where the responsible party is unknown), and $1 million will be suspended while the company completes a three-year probation requiring certain actions.

The agreement had actually been announced in March 2004 (read the New Bedford Standard Times from 3/27/04, “Bouchard to pay $10M, sources say”, but the final settlement had been delayed until November 2004 for a number of reasons.

On January 14, 2005, it was publicly announced that three projects in the “Buzzards Bay Watershed Partners” grant to the federal NAWCA grant program will be funded our of the $7 million in Bouchard No. 120 fines, for a total of $2.3 million. Go to our NAWCA page for more information on these projects and the future of the remaining fine money.

Delays Explained

The delay in the settlement resulted in part from an interesting legal nuance. The plea language suggested that the illegal action was for killing one bird, a symbolic criminal count for all the other birds killed. However, this language left some ambiguity about potential future actions by the federal government, put into question limits of fine amounts per bird, and raised the possibility that fines would be directed to oil spill prevention instead of bird habitat restoration (read the New Bedford Standard Times from 9/15/04, “Hitch delays $10M spill settlement”).

All this was settled in November when the settlement language was changed to “birds” (plural), which ensured that $7 million dollars of the fines would be spent on bird habitat restoration.

Another issue causing delays was that state and federal legislators, town officials, and citizens groups wanted the funds to be spent on Buzzards Bay environmental projects. On this matter the judge had less latitude because by law the funds must be directed to the North American Wetlands Conservation Act fund (administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service) which funds projects on a national basis. The judge’s decision could not pre-empt the law, but she “strongly recommends” that the USFWS and NAWCA council spend the funds in Buzzards Bay. Many believe the judges guidance will de facto result in most or all of the fines sent to the NAWCA program will be spent in Buzzards Bay, because a similar precedent was set in Rhode Island as part of the North Cape oil spill settlement. In that case, the judge also recommended a local expenditure of the funds, which in fact occurred.

In anticipation of these funds, a group of 27 bay organizations called the “Buzzards Bay Watershed Partners” led by the Citizen group, the Buzzards Bay Coalition prepared a grant application to the USFWS for these NAWCA funds. The Buzzards Bay NEP participated in the effort, and prepared the maps and evaluated land use and habitat that were used in the grant report. Go to our NAWCA information page to see which projects were recommended for funding in January 2005 and to see the summary of the Buzzards Bay Watershed Partners grant application.

Publicly Released Documents

On March 29, 2004, the US Attorney involved in the case announced that Bouchard Transportation agreed to plead guilty to two charges of criminal negligence and pay a $10 million dollar fine. The $10 million dollar fine will be reduced to $9 million if Bouchard agrees to undertake certain actions. Bouchard has also agreed to continue pay cleanup costs, approved claims, and remain the responsible party in the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Process.

March 2004 Settlement Agreement Press Releases (226 kb pdf)

March 2004: Legal Case: USA vs. Bouchard Transportation Company (353 kb pdf)

March 2004 Settlement Agreement (520 kb pdf)

(we will attempt to obtain the final version)

Comparisons to Other Spills

How do the Bouchard No. 120 oil spill penalties and cleanup costs compare to other spills? Go to our oil spill costs page for more information on the graph below.

oil spill penalties versus cleanup costs

Related Newspaper Stories

New Bedford Standard Times, 3/27/04, “Bouchard to pay $10M, sources say”

New Bedford Standard Times, 3/30/04, “Feds point finger at first mate”