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Cost of cleaning up oil spill at $23-million and rising

Published Aug. 25, 1993|Updated Oct. 9, 2005

The cost of cleaning up the huge oil spill in Tampa Bay already has exceeded $23-million, and that does not include hundreds of claims, expected lawsuits or damage to the three vessels in the collision.

The two shipping companies paying for the brunt of the cleanup thus far said Tuesday they have spent more than $22-million in the first two weeks. The Coast Guard has spent about $1.5-million.

John Johnson, vice president of Bouchard Transportation Co., one of two companies whose ships were involved in the Aug. 10 collision, said Tuesday his company has spent "about 12-million" in cleanup alone.

Howard Hile, who is heading the emergency spill response for the other company, Maritrans Operating Partners LP, said his company has spent "more than 10-million" in cleanup.

Both men declined to estimate what the final cost might be. But the expense thus far has included only wages of workers cleaning the beaches and waterways and the cost of renting or buying the equipment used, they said.

Perhaps more significantly, the $22-million does not include claims against the companies, reimbursement costs to subcontractors, damages to the vessels involved or any of the lawsuits that might arise from the three-vessel collision that spilled 328,000 gallons of oil into Tampa Bay.

About 600 damage claims have been filed since a claims office was opened Aug. 11, said Bill McLelland, an adjuster for Turnaboat Services, a New Orleans firm hired by the shipping companies to handle claims.

In addition, a class action lawsuit was filed Aug. 19 by some beach businesses and waterfront property owners against all those involved in the accident. That ultimately could lead to millions more in compensation.

As of Monday, the Coast Guard, which is overseeing operations in the spill aftermath, has spent about $1.5-million in its effort, said Dennis Uhlenhopp, a Coast Guard spokesman. He said money spent by the Coast Guard will be reimbursed by the shipping companies.

The final determination of who pays for what probably will be made in court, said Hile, of Maritrans. And that likely will not happen for years to come.

In the meantime both companies are proceeding with the cleanup and paying as they go, said Hile.

He said the way the cleanup is being paid for is unusual because both Maritrans and Bouchard are insured by the same company, West of England Protection and Indemnity Club. That means much of the final cost will be borne by that company, no matter who is ultimately found liable.

Hile acknowledged there was a cap on the amount the insurance would pay, but he said "we aren't going to get near it." He declined to specify that figure.

Johnson, of Bouchard, said it is not surprising the costs of cleanup have mounted so quickly.

"It's pretty easy when you've got tugs and barges" involved, he said. The cleanup has required renting front-end loaders, graders, scrapers, "hundreds upon hundreds of trucks, (and) hundreds of boats."

And he does not foresee cleanup costs tapering off anytime soon. "We still have a very, very sizeable contingent of people working out on the beaches."

Officials have estimated cleanup of the beaches should be complete by Labor Day. The cleaning of sea walls, inland islands and coves along Boca Ciega Bay and John's Pass will take longer, officials have said.

In the nation's worst oil spill, in which the Exxon Valdez struck a reef and dumped 11-million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound, the cost of cleanup as of last year was about $2.5-billion, according to published reports. Exxon has also spent more than $1-billion in a legal settlement for spill damages, reports said.

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