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Gioia may sue over Newtown Creek cleanup

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Along with Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn), Gioia and Riverkeeper issued a preliminary notice to ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, BP Amoco and other companies Monday, saying the companies' facilities along Newtown Creek leaked 17 million gallons of oil into the creek during spills in the 1940s and 1950s.

The oil has since seeped into 55 acres of soil in Greenpoint and Long Island City, the councilmen said. Newtown Creek is the boundary between Brooklyn and Long Island City.

Riverkeeper and the councilmen want the companies, particularly ExxonMobil, which is identified in the notice as having caused most of the contamination, to begin addressing plans to clean up the contamination within 90 days or they will file a lawsuit against them in U.S. District Court, according to the notice.

"ExxonMobil must take responsibility for this terrible ecological disaster," Yassky said. "Every day they do nothing New York waterways become more polluted. This spill is a crime against the environment and must be remedied."

Gioia said it is one of the largest oil spills in the world.

"This underground oil spill is 6 million gallons larger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska," he said. "It threatens our health, damages aquatic life, and cripples waterfront redevelopment. It is imperative that the polluting companies who caused this environmental devastation address the problem and make Newtown Creek safe for the people of Queens, Brooklyn, and the entire city."

Exxon was given an order by the state Department of Environmental Protection in 1990 to begin cleaning up the spills, but Gioia said the order demanded no penalties and set no benchmarks for the cleanup and as a result the company only removed 3 million gallons of oil from the creek and surrounding area.

Riverkeeper Executive Director Alex Matthiessen called Newtown Creek "one of the dirtiest bodies of water in North America."

"Exxon has profited for five decades by neglecting this massive spill at a great cost to our waterways and the people of this city," Matthiessen said. "A comprehensive cleanup of this neglected waterway is long overdue."

Exxon acknowledged responsibility for the oil contamination but refuted claims that the company has neglected clean-up efforts.

"Through various media reports, ExxonMobil is aware of Riverkeeper's recent announcement regarding their intent to sue the company," said Sandra Duhe, an Exxon spokeswoman. "ExxonMobil has not seen the proposed suit and therefore is not in a position to comment on the suit."

She pointed out that "ExxonMobil has conducted remediation work in Greenpoint, and that work continues today. We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously, and we fully intend to comply with the requirements of the agreements previously signed with state DEP concerning remediation of the site."

She said ExxonMobil meets each year with the local community "to provide an update on our remediation plans."

Representatives from BP Amoco did not return telephone calls Tuesday. A spokesman for ChevronTexaco said he would not comment about the issue since it faces potential litigation.

Reach Reporter Tom Nicholson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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