Heavy bunker oil washed up on shorelines stretching from Galveston to Padre Island last year when a bulk carrier collided with an oil tank barge in Galveston Bay.
It's estimated that 168,000 gallons of thick, black fuel leaked from the barge owned by Kirby Inland Marine.
A report published by the National Transportation Safety Board last month blames the tugboat captain who was driving the barge for the spill. The captain should not have attempted to cut ahead of the bulk carrier, especially given the foggy condition on the day of the incident, according to the report.
But the report's findings won't be used in establishing who ultimately will pay for the spill, said Matt Woodruff, Kirby's director of public and government affairs.
While Kirby paid for initial cleanup costs, a pending civil lawsuit in Galveston will determine whether Kirby will be reimbursed at all by the company that owns the other vessel.
Kirby also faces hefty federal penalties and litigation from residents and businesses. The federal investigation into the spill is being conducted by the Coast Guard and is ongoing, said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Andy Kendrick.
The Coast Guard, not the Environmental Protection Agency, is heading the investigation because the spill was the result of two vessels colliding.
But Kirby has settled with one state agency.
The Texas General Land Office, which is responsible for oil spills in Texas coastal waters, required the company to pay three agencies $31,000 each for environmental projects, according to records obtained from the General Land Office. Kirby also paid $37,000 into the Coastal Protection Fund and was credited $40,000 for the $80,000 it gave the Wildlife Response Service, which cleaned birds oiled by the spill, said Jim Suydam, General Land Office press secretary.
The settlement was based on the 2010 Eagle Otome spill in Port Arthur, which was comparable in size, Suydam said.
Here is a look at the three entities that received money from Kirby Inland Marine and what they're using the funds for:
Galveston Bay Foundation
In 2012, the nonprofit signed an agreement with the Texas General Land Office and the Coast Guard to coordinate volunteers during oil spills, said president Bob Stokes. Less than two years later, the Galveston Bay Foundation put its agreement to use.
"We were going up and down Galveston Island for two or three weeks. It was just extra eyes on the beach," he said. "We were glad to play a role in helping it get cleaned up."
The foundation plans to use the $31,000 it received from Kirby Inland Marine to fix up a building the foundation is renovating into an environment education center. The money will help pay for the repair of the plumbing and sewage system of the building, which is on a 17-acre property in Beach City.
The Galveston Bay spill happened within a mile of critical bird habitat.
"We were pretty stressed out," said Houston Audubon conservation director Richard Gibbons.
Horseshoe Marsh Bird Sanctuary wasn't touched by the oil, which ended up drifting out of the bay and down the Texas coast. But Houston Audubon's communication with the incident command about the sanctuary kept them in the conversation when it came time for a settlement, Gibbons said.
The $31,000 check the Houston Audubon received will be used to remove invasive species from Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. Invasive species are one of the highest ranked threats to habitat.
"To all of us land managers, it's like, 'Oh, yeah, invasive species. It will never be over,'" he said. "It's pernicious, and it's widespread. But it's not very sexy to fund."
Hurricanes and drought killed off a lot of the native species at the migratory bird habitat, and invasive species have taken up residence in areas where native trees were. The Kirby settlement money will be used to remove Chinese tallow, Chinese privet and saltcedar among other species.
San Antonio Bay Foundation
Tar balls from the Galveston Bay spill washed up on almost the entire 38-mile stretch of Matagorda Island beach.
The island is home to multiple endangered species throughout the year, serving as a winter destination for members of the only wild flock of whooping cranes and a nesting location for Kemp's ridley sea turtles.
The San Antonio Bay Foundation is using its $31,000 chunk of the Kirby settlement to provide water for wildlife on the island, said Dan Alonso, the foundation's executive director.
Before the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses the island, was established, water wells were drilled there for cattle. Alonso, who previously served as the refuge's manager, started a project to identify old wells in locations that would best serve whooping cranes and other wildlife desperate for freshwater during times of drought.
The settlement money will be used to retrofit existing wells with solar panel pumps and drill new wells where necessary. While the whooping cranes are currently nesting in Canada, Alonso said he is confident the money will be put to use before the cranes return in the fall.
"Hopefully, they'll get done before the cranes come back," he said.