Fisherman sues pipeline owner over Santa Barbara oil spill

FILE - This Friday, May 22, 2015 file photo shows signscmarking the beach closed to fishing and harvesting while cleanup crews in the background shovel and rake contaminated sand into bags at El Capitan State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif. Two weeks after an underground pipeline broke on May 19, 2015, crews continued to clean up oil-covered beaches along California’ Central Coast. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant,File)
FILE - This Friday, May 22, 2015 file photo shows signscmarking the beach closed to fishing and harvesting while cleanup crews in the background shovel and rake contaminated sand into bags at El Capitan State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif. Two weeks after an underground pipeline broke on May 19, 2015, crews continued to clean up oil-covered beaches along California’ Central Coast. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant,File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A commercial fisherman sued the owner of the oil pipeline that spilled thousands of gallons of crude on the Santa Barbara coast, alleging the environmental disaster would cause decades of harm to the shore and hurt many businesses.

Stace Cheverez said in the suit filed Monday in Los Angeles federal court that Plains All American Pipeline has a poor safety record and didn’t have proper equipment to prevent a spill, such as valves that automatically would have shut down the pipeline if there was a leak.

The suit alleging negligence and liability under state and federal laws does not specify damages but said they will exceed $5 million.

A Plains spokeswoman said the company does not comment on legal matters, but it is addressing claims filed against it. Company officials have apologized for the spill and defended its safety record.

Cheverez is seeking class-action status for fishermen and other businesses losing income because of the May 19 spill that dumped at least 101,000 gallons of oil, fouled beaches and killed at least 140 marine mammals and birds.

Cheverez, who grew up on the beaches in Santa Barbara County diving for urchin and lobsters, said the spill will cause years of damage to the scenic coast and waters that “serve as the backbone of the local economy.”

The spill has discouraged tourists from visiting, he said, noting that Refugio State Beach, where the oil spilled onto the beach, and another state park were closed for Memorial Day weekend and would be closed at least through June 18. One kayak touring company reported 25 cancellations after the spill, causing a $3,000 loss.

“Tourists come to these beaches to enjoy the unspoiled sand and water,” the lawsuit said. “People support themselves and their families by harvesting fish and shellfish from these waters. All that has been damaged by this spill, and that damage will likely last for decades.”

The cause of the spill from an underground pipe carrying crude from offshore rigs to inland refineries has not been determined and the damage has not been tallied. About 800 people were mopping up the mess left on beautiful beaches this week and 22 boats continued skimming oil from the waters.

The death toll through Tuesday included 36 sea lions, nine dolphins and 87 birds, officials said. Another 32 sea lions, six elephant seals and 58 birds were rescued and being treated.

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