Phew. It’s a lot of money, but no one’s expecting Exxon Mobil Corp. to pay up the $6.75 billion in damages that a federal district judge in Alaska ruled yesterday anytime soon. The award, for the 1989 Exxon Valdex oil spill, ended the lawsuit’s third trip through the federal trial court and yesterday, its attorneys vowed to appeal again. They’ve appealed – and won – twice before.

Exxon is ordered to pay $6.75 billion, but few expect money soon

By MIKE LEWIS
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

Exxon Mobil Corp. must pay nearly $7 billion in damages to the fishermen and communities affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, a federal district judge in Alaska ruled yesterday.

The ruling eventually could mean millions of dollars for Washington fishermen who worked in the waters of Prince William Sound and near Kodiak, Alaska. However, Exxon twice has successfully appealed the case. Another appeal will happen, Exxon attorneys said.

This is why Molly Mulvaney isn’t yet counting her money. Now a lawyer living in Port Townsend, Mulvaney, 37, worked on black cod, salmon and halibut boats in Alaska from 1983 to 1993. Like thousands of other deckhands, captains and crew members, she lost months of work after the spill.

“At first, I was elated when I heard” about the ruling, she said. But when she realized Exxon planned another appeal, her joy dissipated immediately.

“That is a bit disheartening,” she said, noting that the oil spill happened 15 years ago. “I’m an attorney so I know these things take time. But it’s been going on and on.”

In his 81-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Russel Holland said Exxon must pay $4.5 billion in punitive damages and $2.25 billion in interest. In all, 32,000 people have claims in the class-action lawsuit, including entire small coastal communities, business owners and Alaska natives.

The case stems from one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. On March 24, 1989, the Valdez, one of Exxon’s newest oil tankers, pulled out of the pipeline terminal at Alyeska and moved into Prince William Sound.

Capt. Joe Hazelwood ordered his direct subordinates to guide the ship out of the Valdez Narrows shipping channel to avoid icebergs and then return to the channel when the danger passed. He then left the wheelhouse to get some sleep.

The ship never returned to the shipping channel, eventually running aground on Bligh Reef. The ruptured tanks dumped 11 million gallons of oil into the sound. The spill affected 1,300 miles of coastline and decimated local fisheries.

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