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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesFEDS COLLECT ON BUTLER BAY MUD SPILL FINE

FEDS COLLECT ON BUTLER BAY MUD SPILL FINE

Final legal details of the AT&T Butler Bay mud spill fiasco on St. Croix were settled last week, four years after the incident took place.
Under a settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, AT&T, AT&T of the Virgin Islands, and contractors A&L Underground and BioImpact, a St. Croix company, will pay $1.8 million in civil penalties. Both the V.I. and U.S. governments alleged that in 1996 the defendants released hundreds of thousands of gallons of bentonite drilling mud in Butler Bay while installing fiber optic cables between St. Croix and areas in North America, South America and Europe.
The drilling mud covered and killed conch and other aquatic organisms, and smothered large areas of sea grass and coral in Butler Bay.
Originally the V.I. government attempted to fine AT&T $23 million. But a settlement announced a year ago was for $8 million. Of the $8 million, $2 million was for penalties to both the U.S. and V.I. governments. However, the majority of the $2 million, approximately $1.8 million, went to the federal government.
The $6 million balance went to the territory in the form of permit fees for other AT&T cable projects and to reimburse the government for related monitoring and legal costs.
Although the defendants had federal permits for the work, they were not authorized to discharge the drilling mud. The release of the mud violated the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act, according to a DOJ statement. Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources, said the civil penalty is one of the largest ever obtained under the Clean Water Act’s provisions prohibiting the discharge of fill material into wetland or marine habitat without a permit.
"The significant penalty imposed today is a reminder that companies cannot gain a technology advantage at the expense of the environment," said Schiffer. "The Justice Department will enforce environmental laws wherever violations are found – including underwater. This settlement will help protect the natural treasures of the Caribbean Sea."
As part of the settlement, the companies must also monitor Butler Bay. AT&T undertook a cleanup of the area in 1997 under an order from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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Final legal details of the AT&T Butler Bay mud spill fiasco on St. Croix were settled last week, four years after the incident took place.
Under a settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, AT&T, AT&T of the Virgin Islands, and contractors A&L Underground and BioImpact, a St. Croix company, will pay $1.8 million in civil penalties. Both the V.I. and U.S. governments alleged that in 1996 the defendants released hundreds of thousands of gallons of bentonite drilling mud in Butler Bay while installing fiber optic cables between St. Croix and areas in North America, South America and Europe.
The drilling mud covered and killed conch and other aquatic organisms, and smothered large areas of sea grass and coral in Butler Bay.
Originally the V.I. government attempted to fine AT&T $23 million. But a settlement announced a year ago was for $8 million. Of the $8 million, $2 million was for penalties to both the U.S. and V.I. governments. However, the majority of the $2 million, approximately $1.8 million, went to the federal government.
The $6 million balance went to the territory in the form of permit fees for other AT&T cable projects and to reimburse the government for related monitoring and legal costs.
Although the defendants had federal permits for the work, they were not authorized to discharge the drilling mud. The release of the mud violated the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act, according to a DOJ statement. Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources, said the civil penalty is one of the largest ever obtained under the Clean Water Act’s provisions prohibiting the discharge of fill material into wetland or marine habitat without a permit.
"The significant penalty imposed today is a reminder that companies cannot gain a technology advantage at the expense of the environment," said Schiffer. "The Justice Department will enforce environmental laws wherever violations are found – including underwater. This settlement will help protect the natural treasures of the Caribbean Sea."
As part of the settlement, the companies must also monitor Butler Bay. AT&T undertook a cleanup of the area in 1997 under an order from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.