Plan calls for phased return home for Mayflower oil spill evacuees


LITTLE ROCK — On the one-month anniversary of the ExxonMobile pipeline rupture forced residents from a Mayflower subdivision, the company said Monday it would brief residents this week on a plan for allowing them back into their homes.

Also Monday, environmentalists who have been watching cleanup efforts since the March 30 rupture announced a new grassroots group, The Remember Mayflower Coalition.

Crews have been working around the clock to remove tainted water and soil in the neighborhood since a gash in ExxonMobile’s Pegasus pipeline spewed thousands of gallons of oil onto streets and yards in the Northwoods subdivision and nearby wetlands, forcing the evacuation of 22 homes.

Karen Tyrone, the company’s vice president of operations, said cleanup efforts have progressed to the point where officials will discuss a “re-entry plan” with residents this week.

“We understand we really need to make these homes available for people to move back in to as fast as we can,” Tyrone said.

The plan, approved by the state Department of Environmental Quality, the state Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, calls for evacuees to return to their homes in phases.

“Folks with directly impacted yards will be last,” Tyrone said.

She said owners of all 62 homes in the subdivision have each been paid $10,000 for any inconvenience caused by the oil spill, and have been told that should they decide to sell their homes and find the value is less than before the oil spill, ExxonMobile would either make up the difference or purchase the home.

“They can take advantage of that offer for up to three years,” she said.

Meanwhile, during a conference call with reporters, members of environmental groups announced a new joint effort to keep attention focused on the oil spill and its affects on the community of 2,300, about 25 miles north of Little Rock.

“There is a serious lack of information and community outreach for all (people) that are affected, not just those in the subdivision, but the surrounding community as well,” said Emily Harrison of the Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group.

Harris also reiterated claims that oil had reached Lake Conway, citing preliminary results of independent water testing by Opflex Solutions of West Hyannisport, Mass. The firm is expected to release its final report by mid-May, she said.

The “situation places an undue burden on the community to take on the responsibility of all the chemical and physical ramifications of the pipe line rupture …,” she said.

ExxonMobile and government agencies say they have found no oil contamination of the main body of the lake.

Katherine Benenati, spokeswoman for ADEQ, said there is “no evidence, based on all the data we’ve collected and analyzed, to conclude that oil from the spill has reached the main body of Lake Conway” or nearby Palarm Creek.

“In the cove of Lake Conway the Department continues to monitor water quality and the effects of the spill on the aquatic community,” Benenati said. “We have been taking samples twice a week at locations in and around the cove since April 9.”

Also during Monday’s teleconference, April Lane of the Faulkner County Bucket Brigade, a group created in the wake of the booming natural gas drilling in the region to monitor the air for possible contaminants, said air samples from the Mayflower subdivision on March 30 found high levels of at least five chemicals which are known to cause cancer.

Air tests done on April 2 and 3 were negative, but Lane said it was very windy that day.

An ADEQ statement on the oil spill cleanup on Monday said air emissions in the subdivision continue to be below levels likely to cause effects for the general population. Air monitoring will continue, the agency said.