New York State Announces $12 Million For Restoration Of Lake Ontario And Tributaries

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Denise M. Sheehan and Attorney General Spitzer today announced that New York State has reached a settlement of the State's natural resource damage (NRD) claim for Lake Ontario and its tributaries. Occidental Chemical Corporation has agreed to pay the State $12 million in five equal payments over four years, which will be used to support projects to improve the area's recreational fishing.

"Lake Ontario is one of the most important and widely used lakes in the State. This is a tremendously valuable legal agreement for Lake Ontario and the people of the region. The money from this agreement will help restore the recreational fishery of Lake Ontario and its tributaries. It should be a shot in the arm to the tourism and fishing interests on this beautiful lake. It also sets a strong precedent for other restoration efforts," said Attorney General Spitzer.

DEC Commissioner Sheehan said, "New York State works hard to hold polluters accountable for contamination that threatens our water quality, habitat, fish and wildlife, and air quality. Lake Ontario and its tributaries were severely impacted by the discharges from Occidental facilities, and this damage claim settlement will go a long way in helping to restore these environmentally, recreationally, and economically important fisheries and waterways."

The State filed a lawsuit against Occidental Chemical Corp. to address pollution problems related to Occidental's main chemical manufacturing plant. The settlement represents the final claim in that lawsuit and addresses the damages caused as a result of the discharge of dangerous chemicals from the company's main plant on Buffalo Avenue in Niagara Falls and from other sites and facilities either owned or operated by Occidental.

The NRD claim arises under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund), and state common law, to compensate the people of the State for natural resource injuries caused by the release to the environment of pollutants. The settlement amount reflects an assessment of the harm suffered by the State's residents as a result of the fish consumption advisories necessitated by the presence of chemicals in the fish of Lake Ontario.

Lake Ontario and its embayments and tributaries support populations of a variety of fish, ranging from trout and salmon, bass and walleye to yellow perch and panfish. New York's waters of Lake Ontario comprise over 2.7 million acres.

The $12 million settlement is one of the largest NRD settlements in the country for lost recreational fishing use. It also represents one of the largest NRD settlements ever in the State of New York. The proceeds of the settlement will be used to restore, replace or acquire resources comparable to the injured natural resources. DEC will prepare a Restoration Plan that will set forth various potential restoration, replacement and/or acquisition projects. The public will be provided opportunities to comment on the draft Restoration Plan and to make suggestions for potential projects.

In the settlement, the State has also agreed to release Occidental Chemical Corporation from further liability for the past actions that caused the damages in the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River and their tributaries. The State acknowledges the cooperation of Occidental Chemical Corporation in reaching this settlement. Under previous settlements with the State, Occidental agreed to identify and eliminate releases of pollutants from its plant sites.

The settlement agreement was approved by the United States District Court for the Western District of New York on June 21, 2006. The first payment of $2.4 million is due within 30 days; each of four additional payments is due on the anniversary of the approval date.

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