Exclusive: State hires outside lawyers for Matson environmental claims in molasses spill

Published: Jan. 23, 2014 at 9:24 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2014 at 4:57 AM HST
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State Attorney General David Louie
State Attorney General David Louie

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state has hired a mainland law firm to handle millions of dollars in environmental legal claims against Matson for last fall's massive molasses spill.

The spill last September killed large numbers of fish and many other ocean organisms in Honolulu Harbor and Keehi Lagoon.

The spill also destroyed countless reefs.

State Attorney General David Louie said it's time for Matson to pay for all the environmental destruction.

"And that's damage to the state of Hawaii. It's damage to the people of Hawaii.  It's damage to our eco systems here," told Hawaii News Now Thursday. "And as with anything, when you have damage, and it's caused by a person, then you want to get compensation or you want to make it right."

So the state has hired a mainland law firm named Bingham, McCutchen to handle its damage claim.

That firm has experience handling legal proceedings involving the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Louie said in the molasses case, the state is conducting its own investigation, in conjunction with scientists, to tally up the environmental damage.

"To make sure that we catalog what the damages were and where the reef died, where the molasses went," Louie said.

The state made similar environmental claims against the U.S. Navy after the guided-missile cruiser the U.S.S. Port Royal ran aground on a reef in 2009. The Navy settled with the state for $8.5 million.

"The damage to the reefs here in Hawaii for the Matson spill dwarfs what occurred in the Port Royal matter," Louie said.

There are also federal civil and criminal investigations under way into the spill, which could result in fines and other penalties for Matson.

Jeff Hull, a spokesman for Matson, said "We're continuing to cooperate with state and federal agencies investigating the incident."

Hull declined to comment directly on the state's environmental claim efforts.

Louie said it's too early to estimate how many millions the state will ask for from Matson for the molasses claim.

But he said some of those funds the state eventually gets could be set aside to help Hawaii's ocean environment.

"Replenishment of coral, rehabilitation of the ecosystem, fixing of our natural resources," Louie said, listing examples of where the money could go.

The Bingham, McCutchen law firm will be paid either 15 percent of the money it collects for the molasses damage or $695 an hour, whichever amount is larger.

The state can't expect to get Matson's money anytime soon. That's because the case could take years to settle.

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