OAK RIDGE, Tenn. - Earlier this month, officials from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and the Department of Energy (DOE) signed a Natural Resources Damages settlement agreement. The signed document designates DOE’s plans to compensate the state for ecological and human use impacts associated with contaminant releases from facilities at the Oak Ridge Reservation.
To correct the mistakes of past operations on the Oak Ridge Reservation, DOE conducts environmental cleanup projects to eliminate or reduce risks to human health and the environment. But these efforts may not fully restore injured natural resources or address their lost uses by the public. Through the Natural Resources Damages Assessment process, studies are completed to identify the extent of resource injuries, the best methods for restoring those resources, and the type and amount of restoration required.
After coordinating with the State of Tennessee, with concurrence from the U.S. Department of Interior and the Tennessee Valley Authority to address the Lower Watts Bar Reservoir, DOE agreed to grant an Indefinite Term Easement of 2,965 acres (the Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement) to the State of Tennessee. The tract of land is situated in the northwest section of the Oak Ridge Reservation, and will provide habitat for endangered songbirds and recreational opportunities for the public (e.g. hiking, bird- watching, and biking).
In addition to the land easement, DOE has agreed to pay the state $20,000 annually for operation and maintenance of the land, and $16,300 for yearly in-kind goods and services associated with the easement. Finally, DOE will provide a one-time $50,000 payment to the Trustee Council. The funds will be used by the Council to further compensate for recreational fishing services lost due to environmental contamination through restoration projects to specifically benefit recreational fishing in the area.
The role of the Trustee Council is to evaluate how the natural resources were harmed over the time that the area was contaminated and to assist in the development a restoration program to compensate for those losses. The Trustee Council included members from DOE, the State of Tennessee, DOI, and TVA.
“This agreement is a culmination of a lot of hard work, and we are very pleased with this solution,” said Robert Brown, deputy manager of the Oak Ridge Office and chair of the Trustee Council. “The Department of Energy is intensely committed to the environmental cleanup in affected areas around the Reservation, and we’re equally interested in ensuring the negative impacts on the land don’t translate into fewer resources for the community to enjoy.”
DOE has agreed with the other Natural Resource Trustees to now focus on and expedite settlement negotiations concerning Natural Resource damages for the entire Oak Ridge Reservation.