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ExxonMobil to pay $25M to clean creek

Oil and gas giant ExxonMobil has settled a 2007 lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, agreeing last week to pay $25 million in damages and to clean up the 17 million-gallon oil spill in Newtown Creek along the southwest Queens-Brooklyn border.

“For far too long, residents of Greenpoint have been forced to live with an environmental nightmare lurking just beneath their homes, their businesses and their community,” Cuomo said in a statement. “With this settlement, ExxonMobil will be held accountable for fully cleaning up this environmental disaster.”

Carolina Asirifi, spokeswoman for ExxonMobil, said the company was glad to have reached a mutually agreeable solution.

“We will maintain our focus on our clean-up efforts in Greenpoint,” she said.

The 3.8-mile waterway, which was named a Superfund cleanup site by the federal government last month, has had a long history of pollution dating back to when it was an industrial center in the mid-1800s. It came under special scrutiny after a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter discovered a 17 million-gallon oil plume underwater, 6 million more than the 1989 ExxonValdez spill in Alaska and the second largest spill in America after the 180 million-gallon BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

ExxonMobil is one of five parties currently named by the federal government as responsible in the pollution of the creek. The others, which were not defendants in the 2007 suit, are Phelps Dodge Refining Corp., Texaco, National Grid and BP.

The $25 million ExxonMobil will pay will in large part go to projects that will benefit the environment in Greenpoint. The rest of the settlement will pay for past cleanup costs, future oversight costs, penalties and damages.

In addition to these payments, ExxonMobil has also agreed to do a comprehensive cleanup of the site, which includes a plan to clean not only the water but also the groundwater, soil and soil vapor. This project is to be bolstered by reports on various conditions within certain deadlines, a plan to involve the community and an evaluation of the technology used in the process.

Asirifi said ExxonMobil employs 100 people to work on this clean-up project and the company has already removed 11 million gallons of oil from the creek. A website set up by ExxonMobil, ourgreenpointcommitment.com, tracks the progress of this undertaking.

U.S. Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and Nydia Velasquez (D-Ridgewood) praised the settlement.

“This is very good news,” Weiner said, adding ExxonMobil had been avoiding responsibility for more than a generation, but now would remediate it.

Activists such as Newtown Creek Alliance Director Katie Schmidt also said they were satisfied by the settlement.

“The Newtown Creek Alliance is optimistic that this settlement will mark the beginning of a speedy and inclusive environmental cleanup of ExxonMobil’s Greenpoint oil spill,” Schmidt said in a statement.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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