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An industrial barn and pier on the banks of the Lower Duwamish River, with restored tidal habitat in the foreground. Image: Floyd Snider
The 2006 West Waterway Bench Habitat Project (foreground) restored almost half an acre of intertidal habitat. Image: Floyd Snider

Settlement Valued at $48 Million To Restore Natural Resources in the Lower Duwamish River

June 1, 2021

The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington finalized a settlement worth approximately $48.4 million with Vigor Industrial LLC and Exxon Mobil Corporation to fund habitat restoration for protected salmon and other resources in the Lower Duwamish River. The settlement is on behalf of the Elliott Bay Trustee Council, which includes NOAA, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the State of Washington, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, and the Suquamish Tribe.  

As part of the settlement, approximately $800,000 will go toward past injury assessment costs, which NOAA and co-trustees incurred to assess injuries to natural resources from pollution and to determine the appropriate type and amount of restoration needed to compensate the public for the injuries. 

The rest of the settlement requires Vigor and Exxon Mobil to implement habitat restoration valued at more than $47 million. To compensate for natural resource injuries, NOAA and the other trustees accepted two restoration projects, as outlined in the Final Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment (PDF, 38 pages). Collectively called the Vigor Shipyards Habitat Projects, the two projects will restore more than 3 acres of habitat in the West Waterway of the Lower Duwamish River. One of the projects, the West Waterway Habitat Bench Project, was completed in 2006 and created approximately 0.47 acres of intertidal habitat. The other, the Southwest Yard Habitat Project, will begin construction this summer to provide 2.67 acres of new off-channel marsh, intertidal, and riparian habitat. 

The habitats being created are scarce on the Lower Duwamish River, and reflect the historic habitat types and conditions found in the area. These habitat types are important for salmon and other fish species to feed, rest, and grow throughout various stages of their lives. The two projects will remove 5,770 creosote treated pilings, which can be toxic to marine life when creosote leaches into the aquatic environment. The projects will also remove 2.74 acres of overwater structures, like docks and piers, in order to create more natural habitat. To date, the West Waterway Habitat Bench Project has already shown success, with the growth of marine algae and small fish using the site. 

This early settlement and restoration plan are significant milestones toward recovering natural resources along the river, but the damage assessment process and the selection of additional restoration projects is ongoing. The area has experienced pollution since the early 1900s. Cleanup is also underway, and will continue for many years.

Sign up for the Trustee Council's newsletter to get regular updates on our work. Enter your email address, then check the box next to “Lower Duwamish River Restoration” under the West Coast Updates heading.