Natural Resource Damage Assessments (NRDAs) are investigations of injuries to natural resources that are held in the public trust. Injuries to natural resources may occur at hazardous substance sites or in connection with oil spills.
At the federal level, NRDA authority is part of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund), the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA). The state also has independent authority for NRDA under the state's Hazardous Substance Cleanup Act (HSCA). These laws provide for recovery from the Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) of damages (money or other compensation) for injuries to natural resources and the costs of assessing those damages, if those injuries are due to releases of hazardous substances, or oil.
NRD is recoverable by the agencies having jurisdiction over those resources; these are the "Natural Resource Trustees." For State resources, the Trustee (delegated by the Governor) is the Secretary of DNREC. Currently, the Secretary has further delegated this function to staff from the Site Investigation and Restoration Section, the Division of Fish and Wildlife, and the Division of Water. State trust resources include fish, wildlife, wetlands, forests, groundwater, and recreational use.
Federal Trustees generally involved in Delaware cases include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
Much of the NRD assessment and administrative work is conducted by case managers in the Site Investigation and Restoration Section (SIRS), which manages the HSCA program, as well as state involvement in the Superfund program. A Deputy Attorney General handles legal issues.
Generally, the Trustees will attempt to engage in a cooperative assessment process with PRPs. This approach can often result in more cost-effective assessments and a reduction in the need for "defensive" studies on both sides. The Trustees also generally promote integration of restoration with remediation to allow quicker and less costly accomplishment of both goals at once.
DNREC currently is involved in about 30 cases in various stages of the NRDA process, including oil spills (Athos I in the Delaware River, IPC in Wilmington, Indian River Power Plant near Millsboro) and hazardous substance sites (DuPont Newport, Koppers near Newport, Burton Island/Indian River Power Plant near Millsboro).
Once a damage assessment is completed, the Trustees select one or more projects designed to restore, rehabilitate, replace, or acquire the equivalent of the specific resources or services lost at the spill or release site. Projects are then carried out with funding from the PRPs by DNREC, the PRP, or a contractor.
Two recent NRDA restoration projects include a site on the Mispillion River (for DuPont Newport) and the Slough’s Gut wetland enhancement site at the James Farm Ecological Preserve near Ocean View (for the Indian River oil spill). At both of these sites, the work was performed in large part by DNREC’s Mosquito Control Section.
An important factor in measuring damages and scaling restoration projects is the length of time the injuries existed before being brought to an end and then restored. When the injuries are too extensive or too long-lasting to be compensated for by a restoration at the incident site, off-site restoration projects, e.g., Slough’s Gut or Mispillion, are implemented.
The most significant local oil spill NRDA case, the Athos I spill in November 2004, was in the news recently when the joint Trustees issued the Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan outlining 10 restoration projects to be conducted in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to restore a wide range of injuries resulting from that spill. In this Oil Pollution Act case, the PRP reached its statutory liability limit, so the damage claim is being submitted to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is administered by the Coast Guard and funded by a tax on the oil industry. For more information on the case and the proposed restoration projects, see http://www.darrp.noaa.gov/northeast/athos/index.html
What is a Natural Resource?
Natural resources fall into five categories:
- Surface water
Examples of natural resources include land, air, water, wetlands, soils, minerals, drinking water supplies, fish, wildlife, and other biota.
What is a Natural Resource Service?
Natural resource services are the benefits that natural resources provide to the ecosystem or to humans.
For example, some of the services provided by a wetland include:
- food, habitat, and nursery grounds for fish and wildlife
- fixing of atmospheric carbon dioxide
- production of oxygen
- flood, runoff, and sediment control
- water purification
- human use and enjoyment values, including recreation
Similarly, some of the services provided by groundwater include:
- drinking water supply
- surface water replenishment
- keeping wetlands wet during low surface water conditions