BILLINGS — New trails, fishing sites and other recreational features will be built along Montana’s Yellowstone River as compensation for damage from an Exxon Mobil Corp. pipeline spill, under a plan approved Wednesday by the governor.
The 63,000 gallon (238,474 liter) oil spill in 2011 near Laurel damaged thousands of acres along an 85-mile stretch of the famous waterway and required a months-long cleanup.
Exxon in 2016 agreed to pay $12 million for environmental damage, including about $2.3 million for lost recreational opportunities.
The recreation plan includes 19 projects in Laurel and Billings, which is located just downstream of the spill site and is Montana’s largest city.
Gov. Steve Bullock says the projects due to receive money will improve public access to a river that plays a major role in Montana’s $7 billion outdoor recreation economy.
“I don’t want to look backward at some of the frustrations we had seven years ago but can certainly look forward to what we’ve got next,” Bullock said. “These are legacy projects, projects that will make a difference long after we’re around.”
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, whose office helped negotiate the settlement with Exxon, said the recreation plan was the work of local officials and residents intent on restoring the river to its natural state.
Exxon reported spending an estimated $135 million on cleanup and repair work following the spill. The company has also paid $2.6 million to resolve federal safety and state pollution violations.
The accident occurred on a pipeline installed just a few feet beneath the riverbed, sparking a national discussion over the adequacy of safety rules for thousands of pipelines crossing beneath waterways.
In the years since the Yellowstone spill and at the urging of safety regulators, oil and pipeline companies, including Exxon, have re-installed some lines at greater depths to reduce the risk of accidents.
There still are no regulatory mandates for lines to be deeply buried. In 2015, another shallow pipeline broke and spilled 30,000 gallons (113,559 liters) further downstream along the Yellowstone near Glendive.
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