Valdez spill lawsuit archiving project under scrutiny

JUNEAU — A project to archive records related to the Exxon Valdez oil spill is continuing after the state sought to address concerns raised by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland, in a written notice to attorneys last month, said he had become aware of the project and expressed concern it could inadvertently affect an ongoing dispute in the case.

Lawsuits against Exxon by the state and federal governments, stemming from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, led to a $900 million settlement and a consent decree in 1991 resolving claims related to natural resource damages. That consent decree included what is known as a “reopener” clause that would allow the governments to seek additional money for restoration projects.

According to court records, the governments in 2006 gave Exxon Mobil Corp. a plan for habitat restoration and demand for $92 million to implement the plan. But the governments have not yet formally asked Holland to enforce the claim, leaving the ultimate outcome unsettled. Another status report in the case is due by June 30.

The state attorney general’s office has sought to assure Holland that no records have been destroyed as part of the archives project, and none will be until the judge gives his OK. Final determinations of permanent value also won’t be made until after the case is resolved, the letter states.

“While the web site for the Project ... states that records determined to lack permanent value will be disposed, all records are currently being retained pursuant to the Retention Order,” Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Schorr said in the letter to Holland, dated Feb. 15. Schorr also has served on the oversight task force for the project.

The project, which started in 2011, allows archivists to determine which records have permanent value and should be saved for research and review, and which no longer need to be kept. According to the project website, the state has accumulated a case file of up to 8 million pages. “Storing and managing files was and continues to be a significant cost to the People and State of Alaska,” it says.

The state has spent more than $1 million storing litigation files, according to the project website. Appraising the records and eliminating what isn’t really needed, such as duplicates, will save the state about $37,000 a year, the website says.

Online:

Project website: http://www.archives.state.ak.us/valdezproject.html

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