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Fort association seeks municipal support to settle with ExxonMobil

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OGDENSBURG — In an effort to win damages from ExxonMobil for contamination that delayed reconstruction of a historic fort on Lighthouse Point, the Fort La Presentation Association is soliciting resolutions of support by local governments and community organizations.

The association was left out of an $8 million settlement between ExxonMobil and the state Comptroller’s Office Oil Spill Fund announced in November. The association has a separate claim pending against ExxonMobil with the comptroller’s office.

Petroleum contamination was discovered on Lighthouse Point in 2001 by the fort association, left over from when ExxonMobil and its corporate predecessors owned the property. The site was cleaned up in 2006 and 2007 by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The association for decades has been looking to construct a replica near where the actual 18th century fort once stood on Lighthouse Point.

Fort association President Barbara J. O’Keefe said the years spent waiting for the company to clean up the site and the subsequent years spent pursuing damages has significantly set back the association’s plans to redevelop the point as a historic landmark and tourist destination.

The original fort was built in 1749 by French Sulpician priest Abbe Francois Picquet.

Mrs. O’Keefe said in 2005 ExxonMobil paid the fort association $100,000 to cover legal expenses incurred up to that point, but the association has not received anything since.

“We’re looking to have a conversation with ExxonMobil and settle this,” Mrs. O’Keefe said.

While she declined to comment on exactly how much association members hope to be awarded, Mrs. O’Keefe said the association is not expecting to receive $2.25 million, the amount set aside for the fort in a previous settlement reached in 2006 by then-Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi that ultimately was rejected by then-Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.

Mrs. O’Keefe said she wants to get ExxonMobil to the bargaining table.

So far, St. Lawrence County, the city of Ogdensburg, the village of Heuvelton and the town of Morristown have passed resolutions supporting the fort’s efforts.

The resolutions urge state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman “to use all possible legal means to reach a resolution that includes restitution from ExxonMobil to the Fort Association, and the people of Ogdensburg and St. Lawrence County for the losses incurred by the city and county as a consequence of the ExxonMobil contamination.”

Mrs. O’Keefe said she hopes to see more municipalities and community organizations joining the effort.

She also encouraged citizens to write to local and state representatives to urge them to act.

“This is not just an Ogdensburg project,” she said. “It’s a St. Lawrence region project.”

ExxonMobil declined to comment on the resolutions.

Mrs. O’Keefe said she believes it ultimately will take state action to get ExxonMobil to pay out.

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