WHAT’S NEW

Governor Steve Bullock signs the Yellowstone River Recreation Plan on Wednesday, May 30, 2018.
CASEY PAGE, Billings Gazette

On Wednesday, May 30, 2018, Governor Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox announced the approval of the Yellowstone River Recreation Project Priority Plan. The draft priority plan identifies preferred recreation projects and funding amounts to meet the restoration plan goal of providing additional recreational human use opportunities to offset those lost due to the July 1, 2011, Exxonmobil Pipeline Company Yellowstone River Oil Spill.

The recreation project priority plan was developed as part of the implementation of the Final Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the Exxonmobil Pipeline Company July 1, 2011, Yellowstone River Oil Spill (restoration plan). The restoration plan was prepared by the U.S. Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the State of Montana through the Department of Justice Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP).

To assist with the preparation of this priority plan, the State formed a locally-based ad-hoc Recreation Project Advisory Committee. The Recreation Project Advisory Committee solicited projects and input from the community in the development of the draft plan. The final Yellowstone River recreation project priority plan is found in the Recreation Project Advisory Committee document section below.

If you need additional information, please contact Alicia Stickney at the NRDP at [email protected] or 406-444-1346.

Yellowstone River Recreation Project Advisory Committee

The final Recreation Project Priority Plan is available here: Final Yellowstone River Recreation Project Priority Plan

The Draft Final Recreation Project Priority Plan is available here: Draft Final Recreation Project Priority Plan

Draft meeting minutes from the applicant presentations to the Recreation Advisory Committee on October 11 and 12, 2017 are posted here: 10-11-17 Recreation Advisory Committee Presentations Meeting Notes.

The second meeting of the Yellowstone River Recreation Project Advisory Committee took place on Monday, June 12th. Meeting minutes are posted here: 6-12-17 Recreation Advisory Committee Meeting Notes.

Minutes from the first meeting, held on May 15th are posted here: 5-15-17 Recreation Advisory Committee Meeting Notes.

 

Members of the Committee:

Governor appointed:

Kathleen Aragon

Ted Lovec

Laurel appointed:

Kenneth E. Olson, Jr.

Yellowstone County appointed:

Gary Connelley

John Moorhouse

Bradley Shoemaker

Billings appointed:

Jim Ronquillo

BACKGROUND

Final Yellowstone River 2011 Oil Spill Restoration Plan Approved

In January 2017, the State of Montana and U.S. Department of the Interior issued the Final Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Final Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the Exxonmobil Pipeline Company July 1, 2011 Yellowstone River Oil Spill. The restoration plan was prepared by the State of Montana through the Department of Justice Natural Resource Damage Program and the U.S. Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The restoration plan describes the natural resource injuries caused by the oil spill and restoration project types to compensate for those injuries.

The State of Montana and the United States entered into a $12 million natural resource damage settlement with Exxonmobil, which was approved by the Court in December. The State of Montana will be implementing almost $9.5 million in restoration projects on the Yellowstone River in the next few years. “The restoration plan includes a range of project types that address specific injuries associated with the oil spill, and in total will make the environment and public whole,” said Alicia Stickney, Natural Resource Damage Program Project Manager. “The plan will guide restoration of the Yellowstone River to improve natural and recreational resources of the river injured due to the spill.”

To assist with the development of recreation projects, the State has formed a locally-based ad-hoc Recreation Project Advisory Committee to prepare a draft Recreation Project Plan for how approximately $2.3 million will be spent on recreation projects on the Yellowstone River impacted by the spill. The draft Recreation Project Plan will be submitted to the Governor for approval. The Recreation Project Advisory Committee will solicit projects and input from the community.

HISTORY OF THE SPILL

On July 1, 2011, a 12-inch diameter pipeline (Silvertip Pipeline) owned by ExxonMobil Pipeline Company ruptured near Laurel, Montana, resulting in the discharge of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and floodplain. The discharge is estimated to have been approximately 63,000 gallons (about 1,500 barrels) of oil. The discharge occurred during a high-flow event, affecting approximately 85 river miles and associated floodplain.  Oil from the spill, along with the cleanup activities, harmed natural resources including fish and other aquatic organisms, birds (including migratory birds), wildlife, large woody debris piles, aquatic habitat, terrestrial habitat, recreational use, and the services provided by these natural resources. These public natural resources are under the Trusteeship of the State of Montana and the U.S. Department of the Interior under the Oil Pollution Act and other laws.

 

yellowstone_oil_arial_f

Yellowstone River Below Laurel in 2011. Photo: Larry Mayer

 THE OIL POLLUTION ACT AND NATURAL RESOURCE DAMAGE ASSESSMENT AND RESTORATION

The primary goal of the Oil Pollution Act is to make the environment and public whole for injuries to natural resources and services resulting from a discharge of oil or other hazardous substances to the environment. In the restoration plan, the Trustees have presented their evaluation of injuries to the natural resources, restoration alternatives, and projects that benefit the same or similar resources injured by the oil spill.

 

oil_patch_arial_f

Oil inundated floodplain on Yellowstone River- Note visible oil on water & vegetation at water’s edge. Photo credit: Larry Mayer

INJURED RESOURCES AND RESTORATION ALTERNATIVES

Oil from the spill, along with spill response and cleanup activities, harmed fish, wildlife and their habitats and other natural resources in and around the Yellowstone River. The spill also impacted the recreational use of the river and public sites along the river. Injuries included:

  • Terrestrial/riparian habitat and supported biota, through exposure to oil and disturbance caused by response activities.
  • Large woody debris piles Injuries through exposure to oil and disturbance by response activities.
  • Riverine aquatic habitat and supported biota, including fish injuries, caused by exposure to oil.
  • Birds, through exposure to oil and disturbance by response activities, specifically injuries to cavity-nesting birds and American white pelican.
  • Human service losses, including recreational angling and park use.
fish_lesion_f

External Lesion Caused by Oil on Redhorse Sucker Collected in Fall 2011 Down River from the Spill Site. Photo: Montana FWP

The Trustees evaluated a range of restoration alternatives that would provide resource services to compensate the public for losses pending natural recovery of resources injured by the oil spill. The Trustees have identified preferred restoration alternatives designed to address the resource injuries. The Trustees plan to work with project partners such as local, state, and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations and landowners to implement the projects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Project types include:

  • Acquiring terrestrial/riparian bottomland to conserve and restore terrestrial habitat with some acquisitions focusing on habitat requirements for injured birds
  • Acquiring and restoring terrestrial/riparian habitat
  • Controlling invasive woody species on state and federal lands
  • Acquiring channel migration or other easements or fee title land acquisitions to provide areas for large woody debris recruitment
  • Removing flanked riprap from the river
  • Removing side channel blockages
  • Providing fish passage around fish barriers
  • Restoring and stabilizing river banks using soft bank restoration techniques
  • Increasing American white pelican production through improvement of breeding and nesting areas
  • Improving city parks and public lands bordering the Yellowstone River
  • Improving urban fishing opportunities adjacent to the Yellowstone River
  • Developing new and preserving existing public access on the Yellowstone River

 LINKS AND DOCUMENTS

yellowstone_river_f

Yellowstone River – Photo credit: Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development

For more information, contact Alicia Stickney at 406-444-1346 or e-mail at [email protected]