Harvey man pleads guilty to clean water act violation from 2016 oil spill

Published 10:20 am Saturday, March 20, 2021

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NEW ORLEANS The United States Attorney’s Office announced that James Tassin, age 50, of Harvey, pled guilty on March 18, 2021 to violating the Clean Water Act in connection with an oil spill in 2016.

According to court documents, Tassin was a marsh buggy operator working on the Chenier Ronquille Barrier Island Restoration Project, which was overseen by contractors working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”). The project took place where Louisiana’s coastal wetlands meet the Gulf of Mexico, near several oil and gas pipelines, including Bay Marchand-to-Ostrica-to-Alliance (“BOA”) pipelines, which ran underneath and parallel to the dike on northern side of the island.

Months after the project began, the site manager at the project instructed Tassin to dig an access channel for crew boats that was different from the access channel in the project plans provided by NOAA. This new access channel ran directly over the BOA pipelines, which were clearly marked at the time. Tassin worked on that new access channel over multiple days.

On September 5, 2016, Tassin drove his marsh buggy through the newly deepened access channel and struck one of the BOA pipelines, causing it to leak oil that created a sheen in the surrounding water in Bay Long. When Tassin reported the spill to his supervisors, the site manager instructed Tassin to use his marsh buggy to obscure the evidence that he had been deepening the unauthorized access channel, and Tassin did so.

“The defendant in this case recklessly violated regulations designed to protect the environment and then tried to hide his actions,” said Christopher Brooks, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Louisiana. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that we will hold violators responsible for breaking our environmental laws.”

“Today’s announcement is a clarion call for stewardship and accountability in the pipeline transportation system,” said Todd Damiani, Special Agent-in-Charge, Southern Region, Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General. “Together with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners, we will continue our vigorous efforts to pursue those who knowingly disregard laws and regulations intended to protect our Nation’s natural resources.”

“The Department of Commerce OIG is dedicated to working with our partners to curb fraud, waste and abuse, especially when projects receiving NOAA funding result in environmental hazards,” said Duane Townsend, Special Agent in Charge, U.S Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General.

Tassin faces up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $100,000, and up to one year of supervised release following any term of imprisonment. Judge Susie Morgan set the sentencing hearing for June 22, 2021.

The case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, and the Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas D. Moses is in charge of the prosecution.