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Exxon to resume spill cleanup

Exxon crews will return to Alaska beaches May 1 to clean up remnants of the nation's worst oil spill, the federal coordinator for the cleanup said. The announcement by Coast Guard Rear Adm. Dave Ciancaglini came after a meeting of 70 oil spill officials in Anchorage on Tuesday night.

Some Exxon officials had predicted wind and wave action would make cleaning unnecessary this summer, and the company never committed itself to coming back. Otto Harrison, Exxon's general manager for the cleanup, still wouldn't say directly that Exxon would return to work but did say additional cleanup work is necessary in Prince William Sound and the company will do whatever the Coast Guard orders.

Exxon officials have said they spent about $2-billion on last summer's cleanup. Nearly 11-million gallons of oil spilled into the sound last March when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground. Hundreds of miles of pristine shoreline were blackened. State surveys have reported that 117 of the 350 miles of shoreline originally affected by the spill remain moderately to heavily oiled.

At the Tuesday night meeting, oil spill officials from Exxon and the state and federal governments spoke with unusual agreement on the general outlines of next summer's work.

Exxon's Hans Jahns presented a report by the groups involved that said most of the oiled shorelines should be left to clean themselves, but that specific spots of heavy oil may need to be dug up.

The work this summer will be unlike last year's work of spraying the surface, said Steve Provant, the state's on-scene coordinator. He said the state is asking that some sheltered beaches be dug up so the material can be washed and replaced.

Meanwhile, in Anchorage, an Exxon official testified that an hour after the Exxon Valdez struck a reef, skipper Joseph Hazelwood blamed himself for the accident. Hazelwood is charged with second-degree criminal mischief, a felony; and three misdemeanors: reckless endangerment, operating a vessel while intoxicated and negligent discharge of oil.

Paul Myers, now project manager for the 987-foot tanker's repair, said he phoned the ship in the early morning hours of March 24 after being told it had run aground. He said he reached Hazelwood, who told him oil was in the water and that the ship was safe.

"He indicated the third mate zigged for ice and it went aground," said Myers. "He said he wasn't on the bridge. . . . He indicated . . . it was his fault. He was to blame. He had just gone down to do some paperwork when this happened and he should have been on the bridge."

The witness said he thought Hazelwood felt responsible as the ship's captain. But he was prohibited from answering a question from the defense on whether Hazelwood was accepting criminal responsibility.