HOMER -- While disappointment left coastal Alaska in a stormy mood Wednesday, the smaller Exxon punitive damages amount set by the court -- about $1 billion, including 5.9 percent interest -- promises to inject real money into the state's fishing communities.
Commercial fishermen who missed their 1989 seasons will get the most, since the punitive award is pegged to those who could show actual economic damage. Exxon has already paid compensation for proven losses. The punitive award comes as punishment on top of that, though fishermen say it will compensate for ongoing losses, such as the disappearance of herring, that have been hard to link directly to the spill.
The fishermen's awards are based on the value of each fishery, with individual awards parceled out depending on a fisherman's past catches. The Cook Inlet driftboat fleet, for example, will cut about $94 million among 585 permit holders. That comes to an average of $160,000 apiece, though each skipper's real share is confidential.
The biggest single recipient of funds from the punitive award will be Exxon itself. Exxon stands to put about $110 million from the award in its own pocket thanks to a side deal cut in 1991 with seven Seattle fish processors. Those processors settled with Exxon for $70 million at the time but got to remain in the punitive lawsuit and pass any award they received back to the company. The deal was called "an astonishing ruse" by the federal judge in the case, but it was upheld on appeal.
Native villages hit by oil stand to share a little more than 4 percent of the award, or $40 million. The money is to be apportioned depending on how much oil hit the nearby coast and past subsistence activities documented by the state.
But within the villages, any money will be parceled out evenly among families, said their lawyer, Lloyd Miller. That stands in contrast to many of the other award categories, where highline fishermen get the biggest share of the damages.
"It's just not how people view subsistence," Miller said. "It's a village activity that everyone participates in."
Native corporations whose shorelines were oiled will stand to make money. Among them are the village corporations of the Prince William Sound region, which originally pursued a separate course of litigation in state court and wound up joining in the federal award along with their regional corporation, Chugach Alaska.
Municipalities that spent money to battle the spill get to share some $13 million. The city of Homer, for example, stands to get several million dollars, said city manager Walt Wrede. The city council long ago created a special permanent fund to invest any award. The Kodiak Island Borough is one of the biggest recipients, expecting to gain between $2.5 million and $3 million.
Lawyers are being paid on a complicated formula but generally will get 22.4 percent of the total plus $30 million to $40 million for litigation costs. That gets divided among more than 80 law firms that worked on the spill. Lawyers said Wednesday their share of a $1 billion total award would repay some but not all of their billable hours.
Find Tom Kizzia online at adn.com/contact/tkizzia or call him in Homer at 1-907-235-4244. Megan Holland contributed to this story.
By TOM KIZZIA