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News - NJ Office of the Attorney General : NJ Department of Law and Public Safety

Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 8, 2004

For Further Information, contact:
Peter Aseltine, OAG (609) 292-4791
Erin Phalon, DEP (609) 984-1795

 

New Jersey Reaches $1 Million Settlement with Owner of Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant Regarding Fish Kill Caused by Thermal Discharge

Payments Will Fund Environmental Projects

TRENTON - Attorney General Peter C. Harvey and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today announced that the State has reached twin settlements totaling $1 million with AmerGen Energy Company, LLC (AmerGen), the owner and operator of the Oyster Creek Generating Station, to resolve criminal and civil actions against the company in connection with a thermal discharge that violated its water pollution discharge permit and caused at least 5,876 fish to die from heat shock. More than two-thirds of AmerGen's $1 million settlement payment will be used to fund environmental projects.

"This settlement should send a clear message that New Jersey will hold polluters and those who damage our natural resources accountable for their actions," said Governor James E. McGreevey. "Although AmerGen caused critical damage to New Jersey's marine life and water resources, I am pleased that the company has agreed to fund environmental projects important to the community most affected, including improvements to the park and educational facilities at the Lighthouse Center in Waretown."

The fish kill occurred on September 23, 2002 when AmerGen shut down a transformer to perform maintenance work. The transformer provides power to the plant's three thermal dilution pumps, which serve to lower the temperature of water heated within the plant before it is discharged into Oyster Creek. The State alleged that the fish kill occurred because the company violated specific requirements concerning operation of the pumps contained in its water pollution discharge permit, issued by DEP.

"This is a fair and appropriate settlement to address the company's permit violations," said Attorney General Harvey. "We conducted a thorough investigation that uncovered weaknesses in the company's procedures and training relative to compliance with its water pollution permit. The $1 million in payments required under this settlement will provide the company with a strong incentive to maintain compliance going forward and will send a strong message to others as well."

"AmerGen's permit violations inflicted serious damage to marine life, and revealed a disregard for environmental safeguards," said DEP Commissioner Campbell. "The successful enforcement and settlement of AmerGen's water pollution discharge permit violations illustrate the McGreevey Administration's commitment to the protection of marine life and water resources."

AmerGen will pay $500,000 under a civil settlement agreement with DEP and $500,000 under a settlement agreement with the Division of Criminal Justice. AmerGen's settlement with the Division of Criminal Justice consists of a $250,000 penalty to be paid to the Clean Water Enforcement Fund to support enforcement activities of the Division's Environmental Crimes Bureau and $250,000 for the Lighthouse Center for Natural Resource Education in Waretown. The civil settlement includes an additional $52,088 to be used to improve the Lighthouse Center.

Under the civil settlement, AmerGen will pay an administrative penalty of $190,000 in addition to funds for natural resource damages and environmental projects. AmerGen will submit $182,912 to settle the State's demand for reimbursement for damage to natural resources. These funds will be used to restore injured natural resources or habitat in the Barnegat Bay area.

The company also will pay $75,000 under the civil settlement for the purchase of two EMM-550 Environmental Monitoring Modules to be used by the Barnegat Bay Estuary Program. The modules will monitor water temperature, conductivity, pH, dissolved oxygen and turbidity at specific locations in the Barnegat Bay estuary. The modules will increase public understanding of water quality in Barnegat Bay by automatically transmitting continuous data to be posted in real time on the Internet.

The environmental monitors will be placed at sites in Manahawkin and Waretown where U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) equipment is currently set up. The monitors will operate in conjunction with USGS equipment in an effort to conserve resources. Both module sites are located near important submerged aquatic vegetation beds and vital resource species of fish and shellfish.

AmerGen's $302,088 payment to the Lighthouse Center, under the two settlements, will be used to make physical improvements to the Lighthouse Center property, which is located adjacent to Barnegat Bay. The Lighthouse Center is a 95-acre, multipurpose environmental educational facility that is owned by the State and used by the public and various environmental organizations. The improvements may include the rehabilitation of an existing fishing pier, reconstruction of water control structures to enhance fisheries habitat, lagoon dredging to improve access to the site by boaters, and other general site upgrades.

AmerGen's water pollution discharge permit includes provisions that are intended to protect marine life from exposure to harmful thermal release by regulating thermal dilution pumps. One provision prohibits maintenance work that impacts the dilution pumps from the start of June through the end of September. A second stipulates that at least one of the plant's dilution pumps must be in operation at any time when the water temperature of Oyster Creek at the Route 9 bridge exceeds 87 degrees Fahrenheit.

The State alleged that AmerGen violated the conditions of its permit by shutting down the pumps during September, when it was prohibited to do so, and failing to monitor the temperature in the creek. AmerGen also allegedly violated a requirement that it notify DEP within two hours of the discovery of the fish kill. Although AmerGen employees discovered dead fish within an hour of the time at which the pumps were taken out of service, the company allegedly failed to contact DEP until five hours after the discovery.

A thorough investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice revealed that the company failed to implement adequate procedures to ensure that employees fully appreciated the connection between their actions and the requirements of the plant's water pollution permit. Investigators also identified incidents of miscommunication at key points leading to the discharge. AmerGen has voluntarily taken steps to prevent the reoccurrence of water pollution permit violations by improving its procedures and employee training.

The case was handled for the Division of Criminal Justice by Supervising Deputy Attorney General Edward Bonanno, head of the Environmental Crimes Bureau, and Investigator Stephen Politowski. Deputy Attorney General Charles Licata handled the civil case for the Division of Law.

 

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