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Settlement: DuPont pays for hatchery renovations

The Warren Sentinel

FRONT ROYAL — The state fish hatchery on Mountain Road could get some major renovations, thanks to the largest natural-resource damage settlement in Virginia history.

DuPont will fund the design and implementation of the renovations as part of a proposed settlement valued at more than $50 million to resolve claims related to long-term releases of mercury into the South River from the former E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. plant in Waynesboro.

The releases in the 1930s and 1940s affected the river and floodplain downstream for 100 miles, including Warren County, according to a news release from the Governorís Office announcing the settlement. The Governorís Office collaborated DuPont and the U.S. departments of Justice and the Interior to reach the deal.

The contamination still persists in the environment, showing no decrease in 20 years of monitoring, according to the release.

"Today's settlement, the largest of its kind in Virginia history, is the culmination of a coordinated effort by countless partners at both the state and federal level," Gov. Terry McAuliffe said. "Thanks to their hard work, Virginians and the environment will benefit from unprecedented investments in land conservation and habitat restoration."

A consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg calls for DuPont to pay for the hatchery renovations, estimated to cost about $10 million. The company also would have to make cash payments totalling more than $42 million to the federal government to fund restoration efforts throughout the watershed.

The deal is a result of more than a decade of assessments between Waynesboro and Front Royal, including the mercuryís impact on fish, recreational fishing, migratory songbirds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.

"Years of input from community leaders, and partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia, have led us to propose over $50 million worth of restoration that will be at no cost to taxpayers," said Wendi Weber, northeast regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Communities throughout the watershed will benefit from improved water and stream quality, wildlife habitat and river access for recreation, she said. Natural resource trustees would oversee the cash payments, according to the release.

Planned renovations for the hatchery include pond, raceway and building upgrades. Water supply and outflow would be improved with new filtration and aeration systems. The raceways and a harvest and incubation pavilion would be upgraded.

No expansion into new areas is planned, but the renovations are expected to improve the quality of fish produced, according to the release. An effective outreach program also would address the stigma associated with mercury contamination and potentially renew interest in recreation on the South Fork.

"In short, the renovated hatchery could 'bring people back to the river' through stocking programs and education," the consent decree states.

A draft restoration plan and environmental assessment was released with the announcement for a 45-day public comment period. It can be downloaded at fws.gov/northeast/virginiafield/news/news.html. The consent decree can be downloaded at justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.

A public meeting on the plan is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 10, 2017, at the Waynesboro Public Library, 600 S. Wayne Ave., Waynesboro. After the comment period, trustees will review comments and prepare the final restoration plan.


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