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U.S. EPA, NOAA fine dredging company $735,000 for ocean dumping violations off northern California coast

Release Date: 08/16/2006
Contact Information: Wendy Chavez, 415/947-4248,

$285,000 goes to marine sanctuary environmental restoration

(San Francisco, Calif. – 08/16/2006) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reached two settlements with San Rafael-based Dutra Dredging Company, requiring the company to pay a combined $735,000 fine for ocean dumping violations.

The company will pay a $450,000 EPA fine and pay NOAA $285,000 to fund projects to protect and restore the natural environment of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

After reviewing trip disposal data, the EPA and NOAA’s Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary discovered that the company leaked or dumped dredged material from its disposal vessels over 200 times from 1999 through 2003, while en route to the EPA’s designated deep ocean disposal site 55 miles offshore of San Francisco in nearly 10,000 feet of water.

“More than 200,000 cubic yards of dredged material were discharged outside legally authorized areas -- much of that in sanctuary waters. Since the violations occurred, we have worked with Dutra to improve monitoring systems to ensure these kinds of violations do not happen again,” said Alexis Strauss, the EPA’s Water Division director for the Pacific Southwest region. “We are especially pleased that a substantial amount of the penalty will directly fund restoration work in the marine sanctuaries.”

“This is an exemplary action of two federal agencies working together toward ocean protection,” said Farallones Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Maria Brown.

The violations occurred during eight U.S. Army Corps of Engineer maintenance projects, where a total of nearly 2.5 million cubic yards of sediment were dredged from navigation channels in Oakland and Richmond Harbors and Bodega Bay, and include:

    30 instances of disposing over 86,000 cubic yards of dredged material outside the specified disposal site;
    108 instances of barges seriously leaking during transit -- including in sanctuary waters --totaling over 115,000 cubic yards; and
    One instance of traveling directly through the Farallon Islands disturbance exclusion zone.

The dredged material was approved for disposal under the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act and the EPA’s ocean dumping rules, which authorize disposal of dredged material at specific EPA-designated locations.

To reach the disposal site, barges of dredged material must be towed by a tug through portions of the protected waters of the Monterey Bay and the Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries. The EPA and the national marine sanctuaries have strict rules against spilling or leaking mud from barges while en route through the sanctuaries to the disposal site. Barges are also required to stay outside a 3 mile diameter "exclusion zone" around the Farallon Islands to avoid disturbing seabirds and marine mammals that live and feed around the islands.

Click for a larger version of the disposal vessel route map.