By Brenda Flanagan
“More than anything else, I see a slap in the face.”
She’s an angry lady. Arlene Dudas bought her home on McGillvray Place, knowing it sat in the shadow of Exxon’s Bayway Refinery.
After a refinery explosion back in 1970, she says, Exxon came calling, checkbook in hand. Then she found out Exxon copped to dumping, spilling and leaking toxic petrochemicals in 1,500 acres of soil and waterways all around her neighborhood. Now she’s not the one who’s angry.
“Exxon has acknowledged they’re responsible for this, but this time, they’re being let off the hook for doing what is right. Gov. Christie has made their lives very easy,” Dudas said.
Easy, as in a $225 million proposed settlement, to pay for reparations and restoration of the polluted landscape after state lawyers estimated the damages totaled about $9 billion.
“Why is that? I think we need to know the answer to that question,” said Sen. Nick Scutari.
Scutari grew up here — played baseball practically in the refinery’s backyard. As a lawyer, he’s stunned.
“I don’t remember settling a case at three cents on the dollar my entire career,” he said.
“We’re talking about billions of dollars of damage on acres of wetland, that the governor’s proposing that simply just be capped in the cheapest possible manner with the money — the pittance of those proceeds — being diverted towards plugging a budget hole. That is insulting,” said Union County Freeholder Christopher Hudak.
The governor has called the $225 million unprecedented because, he says, it also obligates Exxon to remediate — clean up the pollution.
“They’re gonna have to clean everything up, no matter what it costs and we get $225 million on top of it because they were bad enough to have done it in the first place,” Christie said.
“Curve ball, screw ball, diversionary tactic,” said Sen. Ray Lesniak.
Lesniak calls foul — says the cleanup is separate.
“The $8.9 billion is for restoration of the damage, not just the cleanup, restoration of the damage and for payment of the loss of value of the wetlands, the marshlands the habitat,” he said.
The AG’s office says, “ExxonMobil has already spent more than $230 million on remediation at the Bayonne and Bayway facilities” and calls the $225 million proposal “the largest such settlement both overall, and on a dollar/acre basis for contaminated wetlands.” It gives the public 30 days to comment and, “We will read those comments in consultation with the DEP and, if appropriate, seek to modify the proposed agreement.”
Some Linden locals feel less than optimistic about taking on Exxon and Christie.
“What can we do? Fight and talk, but can we win?” asked Linden homeowner Aida Martinez.
The county freeholders passed a resolution condemning the settlement. The Legislature plans to hold hearings on it later this month and politicians have vowed to fight it in court, which is ultimately, where this is headed.