CBS5 (San Francisco): MARTINEZ REACHES SETTLEMENT IN 1997 OIL SPILL LAWSUIT: “Representatives for Texaco and Shell were not immediately available for comment”: Posted Saturday 3 December 2005
The city of Martinez has settled a lawsuit for $1.5 million against Texaco over a 1997 oil spill that contaminated Mococo Marsh, an attorney for the city announced today.
As part of the settlement, Texaco Trading and Transportation and its successor, Shell Pipeline Co., agreed to formally apologize for the spill, pay the city $1.5 million and commit to preventing future spills, according to attorney Stephan C. Volker.
Petroleum leaked from Texaco's 20-inch crude oil pipeline into Mococo Marsh sometime around Nov. 19, 1997. The busted pipeline connected the former Tosco and Shell Oil refineries in Martinez.
Volker said the spill affected between 50 and 100 acres of marshland, including Martinez's 17-acre conservation easement.
While the bulk of the cleanup occurred within a few months of the spill, Volker said contamination extended throughout the marsh. Containment berms and absorbent material stayed in place for at least two years.
"It looked like a disaster area for years after the spill," Volker said.
The city filed its lawsuit in 2000 after being kept in the dark about cleanup efforts and spill details, according to Martinez City Councilman Mark Ross.
"When we realized we had been shut out of our place at the table, we sought representation," Ross said today.
According to Ross, the city initially was told that 44 barrels of crude oil had leaked into the marsh. That figure later grew to 350 to 400 barrels of oil, Ross said. One barrel contains 42 gallons of crude oil.
"It was clear we were not getting a straight answer," he said. "We then pursued legal action because our communications were being ignored."
In June 2002, the case was dismissed in U.S. District Court. The city appealed and, in December 2003, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision. In July, a U.S. district judge tentatively ruled that the city could proceed to jury trial.
Volker said the federal judge's decision prompted the negotiations that led to the settlement agreement.
About half of the $1.5 million will go toward attorney fees, Ross said. He hopes the balance will be used for capital improvement projects like the city's amphitheater, which was named after John Muir, the Sierra Club founder who made Martinez his home until his death in 1914.
"We weren't trying to get rich. We weren't trying to sue for monetary compensation or recompense. We were more interested in making it clear that we wanted the marsh cleaned up," Ross said.
Representatives for Texaco and Shell were not immediately available for comment
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