Two years after a massive oil spill at the former Potomac Electric Power Co. plant in Aquasco, the company has settled a lawsuit for more than $2 million.
The settlement will cover damages claimed by watermen, property owners and others affected by the April 7, 2000, oil spill near the company's former Chalk Point Generating Station in the southeast corner of Prince George's County.
"It's our hope that the money will be distributed probably by June," said Gary E. Mason, the Washington lawyer who filed the class-action suit. "This was a very fair and reasonable settlement."
The lawsuit was settled tentatively last December; final approval was granted April 15 in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. Support Terminal Services Inc., the operator of the pipeline, was also a defendant in the lawsuit.
"We're pleased to have this behind us now," said Robert Dobkin, a Pepco spokesman.
Individuals eligible to participate in the settlement must have filed a claim by last month, Mason said. They would include owners of Patuxent River waterfront property contaminated by oil from the spill and owners of properties with access rights to communal beaches or other waterfront property, according to a statement issued by Mason's law firm.
Mason said more than 100 fishermen filed claims, as well as the owners of about 200 interior properties and more than 200 waterfront properties.
"We got a very substantial response; something like more than 60 percent of the waterfront homeowners filed claims," Mason said.
Waterfront homeowners will be paid about $3,000, watermen will get about $2,000 and those with inland properties will yield more than $400 individually, Mason said.
"I think the amounts that people are getting are fair and consistent with what we thought it would be," he said.
Pepco sold the plant in 2000 but continues to participate in the cleanup effort. Officials are "very close" to releasing a comprehensive plan for restoring damaged habitat along the Patuxent River, said Stephanie Balian, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokeswoman. The extent of restoration will depend on Pepco's willingness to pay for the proposed project.
The federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990 mandates that parties responsible for a spill return injured natural resources and service to pre-spill conditions and compensate the public for the loss of natural resources and services from the time they are injured to the time they are restored, officials said.
A group coordinating the cleanup released a report finding that the incident caused a "loss of $453,499 ... in recreational use" to the public in the spill area. That figure was based on a survey of area residents, observations of recreational activity after the spill and historical records. Other issues to be addressed in the restoration concern the effect of the spill on wildlife.
The U.S. Department of Transportation allowed the new plant owner, Mirant Mid-Atlantic LLC, to resume operating the pipeline that caused the spill after the pipeline was repaired.
A crack in the 51.5-mile pipeline resulted in more than 100,000 gallons of fuel oil leaking into Swanson Creek, the Patuxent River and surrounding waterways.
The spill spread oil across at least 17 miles of shoreline, much of it in Calvert County. Waterfront property in Prince George's, Charles and St. Mary's counties also was damaged.