Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 07 May 2010 00:00
At a recent board of trustees meeting, the Village of Mineola approved its settlement of a lawsuit which it had brought against major oil companies for actual and potential damages to the village’s water supply as a result of a gasoline additive known as M.T.B.E. (Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether).
The case of Mineola v. AGIP Inc., et al., began in 2003 when the Mineola Ford property on Jericho Turnpike, which is now the Chaminade Activities and Athletic Facility, was being sold. Environmental testing took place and “floating product” was found in the ground and when it was analyzed, it was concluded that M.T.B.E. was present.
M.T.B.E. was initially blended into gasoline by oil refiners in the 1980s to boost octane in conjunction with the phase-out of lead. The use of M.T.B.E. increased in the 1990s in response to the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, which required the use of oxygenates in gasoline in certain areas of the country that did not meet air-quality standards. Oil refiners overwhelmingly chose M.T.B.E. as their “oxygenate of choice” over various alternatives.
Shortly after M.T.B.E. gained nationwide use, it began contaminating ground water supplies and drinking water wells. According to Mineola’s Village Attorney John Spellman, many of the oil companies knew that it posed a particular threat to drinking water and that underground gasoline storage tanks could play a part if they started leaking.
M.T.B.E. is like a lubricant that actually slides through water very quickly and ahead of the motion of the water itself. Spellman said the contaminate dove deeply right away and began to follow the grade of the water flow.
“The water flow of Mineola runs northeast to southwest,” he said. “So it ran under Chaminade [High School] and across the other schools toward the recharge basins in Garden City, just at the Herricks Road turn and on into Garden City and Garden City Park.”
The village’s main concern was water-well four, located on 8th Avenue and Old Country Road and that the well would draw in M.T.B.E. and therefore contaminate it.
“It was more a preventative move that we would have the wherewithal, in the event that if and when we were to get damaged, that we would have the ability to do a cleanup,” Spellman said.
Water suppliers and municipalities that have discovered M.T.B.E. contamination in or near wells included the Long Island Water Corporation, which supplies water to 30 Nassau communities. Baldwin, Hewlett and South Hempstead; water districts in Franklin Square, Roslyn, Hicksville, Port Washington, Westbury, Carle Place, West Hempstead, Western Nassau and Great Neck North, and the Villages of Sands Point, Mineola, Hempstead and many others were affected.
Although none of Mineola’s wells has experienced M.T.B.E. contamination to date, the law in place when Mineola commenced this lawsuit back in 2003 allowed claims based upon the generic potential for contamination. Mineola’s case was strengthened, however, as a result of an M.T.B.E. laden gasoline leak, which occurred in the underground tanks located at the former Mineola Ford property. Fortunately, however, that contamination has not reached any of the Village’s wells and it appears that the contamination plume will continue to move away from them.
Before the costs of legal fees and allocation of money among the plaintiffs that settled, Mineola’s total gross was $1,155,980.27. A partial settlement of the case occurred in 2009 when Mineola received $16,493.49 from certain defendants. Now, most of the major oil companies have offered a settlement, which netted the village the sum of $794,288.15 after legal fees and costs.
Some of the companies that have settled included but weren’t limited to the Amerada Hess Corp., BP Products North America (Amoco), Chevron U.S.A., Citgo Petroleum Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., Shell Oil Co., Sunoco Inc., Valero Energy Corp. and Lukoil Americas.
There are a few other defendants that elected not to settle. They include Bartco Corp., Getty, O.K. Petroleum Corp., Tartan Oil Corp., and others. Out of the 21 plaintiffs, the Village of Hempstead’s net recovery was the biggest, at $5,495,981.42. Of the defendants that settled, the entire suit’s net recovery was $26,185,117.86. Thirty oil companies have settled, 11 defendants have elected not to settle.
Mayor Jack M. Martins stated that, “the Village Board has been vigilant in protecting and preserving Mineola’s water supply, its production infrastructure and its distribution system. We are pleased to report that our efforts in litigation have been successful.”
The Mayor went on to stress that Mineola’s water is of the highest quality and is carefully monitored on a daily basis. “Our water supply is one of the most important resources entrusted to our stewardship,” he said. “We guard it carefully so that we may pass to our grandchildren a reservoir of clean water.”