Cowlitz County Trial Over Port of Longview Cleanup Begins

By Erik Olson, February 7, 2013, Longview Daily News

A trial is under way in Cowlitz County Superior Court to decide whether a London-based insurance exchange must pay millions of dollars to clean up decades-old soil contamination at the Port of Longview.

Judge Stephen Warning is presiding over the jury trial, which is scheduled to last through Feb. 15. Port commissioners will meet Friday morning to discuss a possible settlement. The terms of the proposal were not disclosed Thursday, when both sides continued opening arguments in court, port attorney Frank Randolph said.

About 20 different insurance companies are listed as defendants, operating under the British insurance exchange Lloyd’s of London.

Port officials say the insurors are liable for costs to clean up two contaminated sites. One is at the former International Paper Co. creosote plant, which was used for treatment of wood products on about four to six acres of land. The second is along the rail line at the port’s west end, where an underground pipe leached bunker fuel from the Berth 1 docks to an old storage tank owned by Longview Fibre Paper and Packaging Co.

Port officials say they bought liability coverage in the middle of last century but only discovered the contamination in the late 1980s. They learned they might be eligible for insurance coverage in 2009, when they filed a claim.

The port wants to clear away the contaminated soil and replace it with clean new fill, which could cost millions of dollars but also make the land more attractive for developers.

Attorneys argued the insurance exchange shouldn’t be responsible to pay for damages caused decades ago. They also say the port has not identified any specific damage costs, and they don’t believe the insurors should be on the hook for a unspecified, high-cost cleanup.

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