On May 7 and 9, 2013, representatives from Exxon Mobil Pipeline Company discussed the details of a compensation package offered by the company on May 4, 2013. Titled the “Property Purchase and Price Protection Program” (Exxon’s summary of which can be found here), the compensation package seeks to pay Northwood residents for the depreciation of their property values regardless of whether the residents choose to stay in their homes or sell their homes and move from the neighborhood. Compensation is also offered for landlords and tenants affected by the March 29, 2013 Pegasus Pipeline rupture, and no release of claims is required for residents who choose to participate in the program. The program is to be administered by a company called Community Interaction Consulting, Inc. (CIC), and Exxon claims that any communication with CIC will remain confidential.
At the meetings with the Northwoods residents on May 7 and 9, Exxon went over the details of the program and answered questions from residents. At the May 7 meeting, representatives from the federal EPA, as well as the state Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health were present to give reports on air and water testing. Exxon also provided a detailed report on clean-up efforts and planned remediation work to take place following the completion of cleanup efforts. Also at the May 7 meeting, which was limited to the 22 Northwoods residents who were evacuated from the homes following the oil spill, inconvenience checks of $10,000 were issued. Previously, Exxon issued $10,000 inconvenience payments to all Northwoods residents.
Additional inconvenience payments were not issued to the other Northwoods residents for whom the May 9 meeting was held. Also, the state and federal officials who had been present at the May 7 meeting did not attend the May 9 meeting, and no report on air or water quality was given at that meeting.
Among the notable points from the meetings were the following:
- Whereas he would not discuss long term physical risks associated with the oil spill, primarily due to lack of data, state Department of Health Emergency Response Branch Chief Dr. William Mason acknowledged that the long-term mental health risks associated with the oil spill were “significant,” and he advised residents to seek medical treatment for any emotional issues caused by the oil spill, in additional to any physical issues
- Exxon representative Karen Tyrone stated at the May 7 meeting that there were “no indications of problems” with the pipeline prior to its rupture. When asked at the May 9 meeting whether Exxon would move its pipeline, other Exxon representatives gave no indication that it would and noted that the pipeline preceded the Northwoods subdivision and that residents should have had notice of its presence.
- Ms. Tyrone also stated at the May 9 meeting that residents who had made improvements to their homes that may not be reflected in appraisals conducted as a part of the program had “valid claims,” and that Exxon “wanted to hear about them.”
- Although Exxon stated that CIC had conducted similar programs in the past and were the “experts” at it, they also stated that they had never attempted a program were houses were marketed for a period of time before a decision to purchase them was made by the company (a component of Option C of the program).
Questions that Exxon failed or refused to answer at the meetings included the following:
- What the expected devaluation of properties would be. Exxon instead stated that Mayflower was located in the one of the fastest growing areas of the country and that they expected property values to continue to rise (despite the fact that Mayflower, and especially the Northwoods subdivision, will be associated with the oil spill for many years to come and despite the fact that Exxon apparently has no intention of moving the pipeline that, according to Exxon, gave no indications of problems before the rupture).
- Why Exxon was not willing to offer full value for all of the properties in the neighborhood like they are doing for the evacuated properties.
- Why evacuated residents were given an additional $10,000 in inconvenience compensation for their disruption in continuing to be displaced but the other residents were not given any additional compensation for the inconvenience of remaining in the neighborhood while clean-up efforts remained ongoing.
- Why, despite Exxon’s assurances that residents’ dealings with CIC were confidential, Exxon was aware of certain details of CIC’s dealings with certain affected residents which they announced at the May 9 meeting.
- Whether Exxon would be willing to include in its compensation package an allowance for the additional price per square foot that residents would have to pay to buy or build homes in comparable locations in Central Arkansas.
- What Exxon’s plan was for homes that it purchased as a part of the compensation package.
Considering these and other unanswered questions regarding Exxon’s response to the March 29, 2013 oil spill, affected residents are still advised to seek qualified oil spill attorneys to advise them on their claims. Many attorneys, including Johnson & Vines, PLLC and Hare Wynn Newell & Newton, are not seeking fees on compensation currently being offered by ExxonMobil in its May 4, 2013 Property Purchase and Price Protection Program, nor from any benefits previously paid by ExxonMobil.