Couple sues railroad for fuel spill damages

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2001

WASILLA (AP) -- A Gold Creek couple is suing the Alaska Railroad for alleged damages related to a 1999 fuel spill near their home.

Kathy and Leeroy Zeroth contend their property and livelihoods were damaged when a train derailed about 40 miles northeast of Talkeetna, dumping about 120,000 gallons of jet fuel in the wilderness surrounding their home.

The couple's complaint was filed in Superior Court in Palmer.

The Zeroths' 80-acre homestead adjoins the tracks. They had lived in the area for 12 years, and owned a cabin they rented to fishermen and hikers. They have since moved to a home in Talkeetna because of the spill, attorney Samuel Fortier said.

Even more than a year later, the property smells like fuel, he said.

In their suit, the Zeroths say the railroad lacked a spill contingency plan and failed to use experts and equipment that would have helped clean up the spill, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

''They spilled 120,000 gallons of fuel, and instead of addressing the problem, they all went on vacation for awhile,'' Fortier said, referring to cleanup crews who were given a holiday break shortly after the accident.

The suit does not state the total amount of damages sought, but lists the claim at more than $100,000.

Railroad general counsel Phyllis Johnson said she had not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit and could not comment.

The suit is the latest spill-related suit for the railroad. Last month, the railroad agreed to pay the state at least $530,000 to avoid civil and criminal charges stemming from five recent fuel spills. It also agreed to pay additional costs to implement its spill response and prevention program.

The spill at Gold Creek was by far the largest of those spills, and is expected to take years to clean up. Only about 15 percent of the spill has been recovered. A team of University of Alaska scientists has concluded that fuel will reach the Susitna River, if it hasn't already.

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