Communities say Exxon owes $12 million in spill costs

Posted: Wednesday, July 03, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Thirteen years after the Exxon Valdez ran aground spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, six communities say Exxon Mobil Corp. stills owes them $12 million in costs associated with the spill.

A trial on the claim is under way in state Superior Court in Anchorage.

Winds, currents and tides carried the crude oil out of the Sound, around the outer coast of the Kenai Peninsula and southwest to Kodiak Island and beyond. The plaintiffs are Kodiak Island Borough, Seward, Cordova, Old Harbor, Larsen Bay and Port Lions.

''People were working hard on the spill, and Exxon continues to nickel and dime them to death,'' said attorney Brian O'Neill, who is representing the cities.

Exxon Mobil disputes the claim and says it has paid what it owes, more than $2 million.

The case is independent of the main unsettled spill question: How much will Exxon Mobil be ordered to pay in punitive damages to thousands of commercial fishermen, Alaska Natives, property owners and others harmed by the spill.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the $5 billion award levied against the international corporation by an Anchorage jury in 1994 to be excessive and ordered the Anchorage federal district court to reduce it. Exxon Mobil has since told the court the award should be no more than $40 million.

The case in state court involves a far smaller amount, with Port Lions looking for as little as $98,000. Thousands of hours spent on cleanup by city employees that took them away from their regular duties were not reimbursed by Exxon, O'Neill said in the first week of trial.

Darryl Schaefermeyer, deputy city manager of Seward at the time of the spill, has testified that during the summer of 1989, he received spill-related calls every day, including weekends. That led him and other city employees to underestimate the amount of time they worked on cleanup when reporting the hours, he said.

But Exxon attorneys, who opened their case Tuesday, said that cities can't ask for reimbursement years later.

''If I felt like we owed any money, we wouldn't be here,'' said Chuck Diamond, an Exxon attorney. ''We paid them all. They don't get to come back 13 years later and submit an invoice.''

The state Superior Court initially dismissed the case in the early 1990s, saying municipalities and villages could not ask for money for services they were hard-pressed to provide to residents during the cleanup.

But on appeal, the state Supreme Court said the cities' claims were valid and ordered a retrial in Superior Court. The trial is expected to last for another week.

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