This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A group of 66 people who live near the site of a 2010 oil spill into Red Butte Creek sued Chevron on Friday in federal court, seeking unspecified damages for the "devastating" effects of the spill.
They allege that despite Chevron's cleanup, remnants of oil linger, causing health problems and a drop in property value, and that the company failed to fix the problems that caused the spill.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, will likely seek "tens of millions" of dollars in damages, said attorney Paul Durham.
"We're really looking for justice here," Durham said. "We feel like Chevron made one of the biggest environmental disasters that the Salt Lake Valley's ever seen, and it feels to a lot of the plaintiffs like they've swept that under the carpet."
Two spills from a Chevron pipeline hit Salt Lake City's eastern foothills in 2010. An electrical surge apparently caused the first spill in June, which unleashed 33,600 gallons of crude as it leaked overnight, scarring Red Butte Creek and property in the upscale neighborhoods it runs through, the Liberty Park pond and parts of the Jordan River.
Crews repaired the pipeline and reopened it barely more than a week later, but it broke again in December, spewing another 21,000 gallons near Red Butte Garden's amphitheater. The pipeline reopened Feb. 1, 2011, with safety upgrades.
Chevron says it has spent more than $42 million in cleanup costs.
But Peter Hayes, whose home is about 10 feet from the creek, says they "did it on the cheap."
Nearly two years after the spill, "a lot of people are still getting sickened by the fumes that do come up from the creek on occasion," said Hayes, who lives in the Harvard-Yale area. It's also affected his property values and those of his neighbors, since they would have to inform potential buyers about the spill and that another could happen.
The larger aim of the suit, he said, is to "punish" Chevron for the two spills, and its subsequent failure to move the pipeline away from homes.
"The tone of this has nothing to do with me getting money," Hayes said. "My point has always been that this is a multinational corporation that needs to do the right thing."
The residents also allege the company illegally failed to make fixes to leak detection and automatic shutoff devices, fixes they say could have reduced the size of the spill or avoided it all together.
The city and the company agreed to a $4.5 million settlement last year, but that didn't affect the residents. One or two have gotten small amounts of money from Chevron, but "virtually all of these plaintiffs have not received any payout," attorney Durham said.
Chevron officials did not immediately return calls for comment.
Of the plaintiffs, 38 own property directly on Red Butte Creek, and another 28 own property close to the creek and also claim they suffered the negative effects of the spill.
"For the first 20 years after I moved here, I thought my house was in a little corner of Eden. This Chevron oil spill has largely destroyed that. I have been exposed to noxious fumes and chemicals that make me ill and prevent enjoyment of the beauty here," said homeowner Patricia Callahan, in a news release.
What Chevron has paid so far
$36.6 million • Cost of cleanup along Red Butte Creek.
$2.3 million • Amount paid to restore Liberty Park pond.
$1.3 million • Reimbursement to the University of Utah for spill damage.
$929,000 • Payout to third parties, such as homeowners, to compensate for property damage, personal inconvenience and potential injuries.
$508,000 • Reimbursement to Salt Lake City for its out-of-pocket expenses for the two pipeline breaks.
$462,853 • Payment to the Utah Division of Water Quality for its spill-related expenses and oversight.
$424,000 • Civil penalty to the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration because of the June 2010 spill.
$100,000 • Cost of a waterfowl mitigation project, according to an agreement with the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources.
Note: All payments are as of July 31, 2011.
Source: Settlement agreement with Chevron
About the spills
Two leaks from a Chevron pipeline spilled 54,600 gallons of crude oil near Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City's eastern foothills in 2010.
The June 11-12 spill unleashed 33,600 gallons of crude, scarring Red Butte Creek, the Liberty Park pond and parts of the Jordan River. The pipe was repaired and reopened little more than a week later on June 21.
A second spill, on Dec. 1, spewed 21,000 gallons near Red Butte Garden's amphitheater. The pipeline reopened Feb. 1, 2011, with safety upgrades. The Liberty Park pond, however, didn't reopen until last spring.