Legacy of an Oil Spill

A foggy, wet day outside the Plymouth courthouse, where jurors were seated Monday in an oil spill trial.
For the next two weeks, ThreeBeats will report on a high-profile, class-action lawsuit from Plymouth County Superior Court in Plymouth, Mass. Follow the coverage on ThreeBeats and in The Standard-Times. The civil trial relates to an oil spill that devastated the Buzzards Bay shoreline nearly seven years ago when a Bouchard barge carrying heavy fuel oil to a Cape Cod power plant tore open its hull by running aground on a rocky ledge at the mouth of the bay. Becky W. Evans writes about Day 1 of the trial in today’s Standard-Times. To read the story, click here. Or keep reading here:

JURY SEATED IN TRIAL (as published in The Standard-Times)

BY BECKY W. EVANS (reporter.evans@gmail.com)

PLYMOUTH — Fifteen jurors were selected Monday at the opening of a trial involving Mattapoisett property owners who claim their shoreline properties were damaged by home heating oil that spilled from a Bouchard tank barge when it ran aground in Buzzards Bay nearly seven years ago.

The civil trial continues today at Plymouth County Superior Court, where prosecution and defense lawyers will make opening statements.

Justice Raymond J. Brassard told about 100 potential jurors that a good trial juror must possess “a particular state of mind,” which includes “being willing to judge this case based only on the evidence and law described to you” and “the willingness to keep your mind open.”

During the nearly five-hour jury selection, Brassard and the lawyers vetted more than 50 people to determine the 15-member jury. Brassard instructed the jurors to abstain from reading, listening or watching media coverage of the trial.

The trial, which is expected to last two weeks, will feature testimony from eight property owners who have real estate near or on Harbor Beach, Crescent Beach, Pease’s Point, Shell Beach, Leisure Shores and Brandt Beach in Mattapoisett.

The owners are part of a 1,100-member class that filed a lawsuit against defendants Bouchard Transportation Co. Inc., Tug Evening Tide Corp. and B. No. 120 Corp. in Plymouth Superior Court on Sept. 29, 2004. The class is seeking millions of dollars in damages to their property from the oil spill.

On April 27, 2003, the B. No. 120 barge leaked nearly 100,000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil into Buzzards Bay after rupturing its hull on rocks off Gooseberry Neck in Westport. The tug Evening Tide, which was towing the barge, drifted off course, causing the barge to run aground on a rocky ledge outside the marked channel.

The oil spill polluted 100 miles of shoreline, killed 450 federally protected birds and temporarily closed 178,000 acres of shellfish beds. Bouchard paid a $10 million fine to the federal government after pleading guilty to violating the Clean Water Act. The company also spent more than $40 million cleaning up the oil-soaked shoreline.

After the jury selection, class members Joseph DeLeo and his wife, Kim, told The Standard-Times that they were happy to see the trial begin after years of anguish related to the cleanup of Leisure Shores beach, which they contend is still polluted with oil from the Bouchard spill.

The couple bought their Marina Drive home in September 2001 and enjoyed only one summer with a “pristine” beach, DeLeo said.

He does not let their two children, who were born after the oil spill, play or swim at the beach.

“They say it’s OK, but what kind of parent would I be if I let them?” DeLeo asked. “When I moved here the beach was pristine, and I want it back the way it was.”

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