The first of an expected avalanche of lawsuits over the catastrophic Valdez oil spill has been filed in Anchorage Superior Court.
The class action suit, filed in the names of two Prince William Sound fishermen, accuses Exxon Corporation, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and the state Department of Environmental Conservation of gross negligence in connection with the 11milliongallon spill and the botched cleanup efforts.
Martin and James Goreson, who own four limitedentry permits, say allowing the spill to happen, and then failing to clean it up will cost them money because of lost fishing. The lawsuit asks for damages, with the amount to be determined at a later date.
A spokeswoman for the law firm of Hansen and Lederman said a separate suit with similar allegations will be filed against the U.S. Coast Guard later this week in federal court.
Additionally, Cordova District Fisherman United, an association of Prince William Sound fishermen, is preparing to take separate legal action according to its executive director, Marilyn Leland.
The tanker Exxon Valdez, loaded with 53 million gallons of North Slope crude, ran aground shortly after midnight Friday about 25 miles out of Valdez in clear weather and calm seas. As of Wednesday, a 100squaremile slick of sticky glop was drifting out of control in the eastern part of the Sound, killing marine life, coating island shores and threatening a $90 million fishery.
The suit also names Exxon Valdez Capt. Joseph Hazelwood as a defendant, citing him for failure "to operate the Exxon Valdez in a safe and prudent manner in accordance with accepted navigational practices."
The Goresons accuse Exxon of negligence for hiring Hazelwood, but the suit does not specifically mention Hazelwood's history of alcoholrelated driving convictions nor reports from the Coast Guard that his breath smelled of alcohol shortly after the March 24 accident.
It does mention that Hazelwood had turned the helm over to an unqualified pilot shortly before the ship ran aground on Bligh Reef at 12:04 a.m.
Once the accident occurred, Exxon, Alyeska and the state had a duty "to respond to the oil spill as quickly and responsibly as possible to minimize damage" to fishermen, the suit says, but all failed to do so.
Citing emergency powers granted to DEC in state statutes, the Goresons say the agency should have declared an emergency and taken charge of faltering cleanup efforts. State law says DEC may take control of cleanup efforts and order "a person or persons to take action the department believes necessary to meet the emergency, and protect the public health, welfare, or environment.
"A person to whom an order is directed shall comply with it immediately . . ." the law says.
Exxon officials, who were in charge of the cleanup, have been criticized for the pace of their efforts.
DEC "failed to meet its responsibilities . . . on March 24, 1989, and in the days following the grounding of the Exxon Valdez," the suit charges.
Leland, of the Cordova fishermen's group, said the Goresons are not members of that organization. Members of the Cordova union are "actively investigating our options," she said, and will probably sign up two law firms today one from Alaska and one from Outside.