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HAMPDEN, Maine — A Chevron Corp. official said Thursday that the six-figure settlement to be announced Friday by Gov. Paul LePage in response to decades of oil leaks in the Penobscot River will provide significant conservation benefits for the area.
“We are pleased that the settlement includes funding of an environmental conservation project that will offer citizens of Maine enhanced access to the Penobscot River and preserve riverside land for the enjoyment of the public,” Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said in an e-mail.
At the same time, Comey noted that the company is not admitting any liability for the oil leaked into thePenobscot.
“The State, while overseeing Chevron’s activities since 1984, provided Chevron no notice [or] indication of alleged violations until 2007 and did not demand any penalties until 2010,” he said. “As part of the settlement, Chevron did not admit any liability, wrongdoing, responsibility, or illegal conduct whatsoever, and agreed to resolve the violations to avoid protracted litigation.”
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection estimates that more than 140,000 gallons of oil leaked into the Penobscot River from storage tanks at the former Chevron facility located near the Bangor city line. Chevron owned the oil tank farm between 1950 and 1986, when it was sold to Cumberland Farms, the parent group of Gulf Oil Corp.
“The settlement with Maine DEP resolves penalties for events that occurred more than 30 years ago,” Comey said Thursday. “Chevron has been working cooperatively and with the oversight of the [DEP] since the early 1980s to perform cleanup of a few releases of petroleum at the facility and remains committed to meeting all our responsibilities at the site.”
Site assessment and remediation activities were initiated at the site in 1984 after occasional petroleum sheens were observed on the Penobscot River, and a compliance order by consent was signed among Gulf, Chevron and DEP officials on Aug. 30, 2007, that required Chevron to clean up the contaminated Hampden site.
A 2010 DEP report said that more than 9,000 gallons of old oil and 2,800 tons of contaminated sediments had been removed from the site and from an adjacent mudflat.
The settlement to be announced by LePage on Friday is “the second largest environmental penalty in Maine’s history,” said a press release issued Wednesday by the governor’s office.
State officials and Comey declined to release the amount of the settlement ahead of LePage’s press conference Friday.
The largest environmental settlement in Maine, which totaled just under $1 million, was paid in 1991 by International Paper for air and water violations, said DEP spokeswoman Samantha DePoy-Warren.
She said Wednesday that the Chevron settlement addressed oil that spilled or seeped into the Penobscot River before 1984, but corrected herself on Thursday.
“I misspoke when I said we were looking at a time frame from the [1940s] to the ’80s,” she said. “Chevron left the site in the 1980s, but we’re looking at contamination that occurred over several decades and still continues on the site still to this day.”
The press release from the governor’s office mentions environmental protection and conservation, economic development and job opportunities as benefits of the settlement, but DePoy-Warren declined to elaborate Thursday, saying, “Those are details that we’ll be announcing tomorrow.”
Some of the settlement money will fund the creation of an 8.5-acre riverfront park with trails, boat slips, a kayak launch, and a parking lot on land near Hampden’s Turtle Head Marina, Hampden Town Manger Sue Lessard said.
“This agreement between the state and Chevron for what’s in essence the penalty phase for this thing will be announced Friday, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to share further what this agreement means with this community and [what] an opportunity this is for the rest of the region,” she said Thursday.
Barbara Parker, theDEP’s director of response services, recalled Wednesday that she was dispatched to the site years ago as a young responder to help with monitoring wells.
“The first time we pulled [up a sample], it was all oil,” she said. “It was shocking. Definitely, a lot of oil had spilled over there.”
But the state and Chevron — which has spent millions of dollars in remediation at the site over the years — have taken steps to remove contaminated soils and protect the river from seepage with the installation of a steel sheet pile barrier, the addition of a layer of clay and rip-rap, and continuous on-site water filtering pumps.
In addition to LePage, Maine Attorney General William Schneider, DEP Acting Commissioner Pattie Aho, Lessard and other officials are scheduled to speak at the press conference, scheduled for noon Friday.
BDN writer Andrew Neff contributed to this report.