Pepco, pipeline tentatively OK $2.25 million to settle lawsuit

November 28, 2001|By Michael Scarcella | Michael Scarcella,SUN STAFF

Potomac Electric Power Co. and the operator of an oil pipeline through Prince George's County have tentatively agreed to pay $2.25 million to settle a lawsuit over a spill in April of last year that fouled the shoreline of a Patuxent River tributary.

The settlement - if approved Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt - would provide compensation to waterfront property owners and commercial watermen affected by the spill of 126,000 gallons of fuel oil from a ruptured pipeline owned by Pepco and operated by Support Terminal Services Inc. at the utility's Chalk Point Generating Station.

The pipeline, which carried oil from a terminal in Piney Point in St. Mary's County to Chalk Point, had not been inspected by federal regulators for three years.

"We are very pleased with the settlement," said Gary E. Mason of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfield & Toll, one of three law firms that brought the suit. "As we are approaching the two-year anniversary, we are glad to achieve resolution."

Mason called the settlement a "significant amount of money," and said notices would be sent to prospective participants in the class action early next year.

Makini Street, a Pepco spokeswoman, emphasized that the settlement is not final. "It's tentatively settled, and we're awaiting the court proceedings to be finalized next week," Street said.

Beaches and marshes of Swanson Creek were soaked in oil, which also blew into the Patuxent River in Prince George's and Calvert counties. A storm the day after the spill pushed large quantities of oil over containment booms, fouling some 20 miles of shoreline. Hundreds of turtles, fish, muskrats and other wildlife were killed.

"I was in shock," said Stephanie T. Byrd, who owned a waterfront property in Golden Beach, of the sight from her back yard overlooking the generating station. She has moved from the area.

Joseph W. Paolillo has remained in Golden Beach, saying that his love for nature will keep him in place even if the wildlife isn't as abundant. "I used to get a lot of wildlife - but the turtles have been down tremendously," he said. "And we usually get our fair share of poisonous snakes from the marsh. I almost miss them."

The federal government fined Pepco $674,000 for understating the amount of oil that spilled, for a lack of procedures in place that could have detected the leak quickly and for technical violations of pipeline safety regulations.

A state Department of Natural Resources spokesman said that damage assessment continues, and restoration work cannot begin until that is complete. The cleanup has cost more than $65 million.

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