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Santa Barbara fisherman files suit against oil pipeline company

A Santa Barbara County fisherman sues a pipeline operator, alleging that an oil spill has hurt business

A Santa Barbara fisherman is suing the Texas owners of the oil pipeline that ruptured last month, spilling up to 105,000 gallons of crude along the coast near Refugio State Beach, for economic damages.

Lawyers for Stace Cheverez said in a complaint filed Monday in federal court in Los Angeles that the oil spill has damaged the livelihood of fishermen and other businesses along the Santa Barbara County coast.

A commercial fisherman since 1989, Cheverez owns and maintains two boats he uses to catch fish near shore, according to the complaint. The spill has prevented him from catching grass rockfish that usually return this time of year. 

Up to 21,000 gallons of crude oil made its way to the Pacific and led to an indefinite ban on fishing in a 138-square-mile zone stretching from Canada de Alegria near Gaviota State Beach to Coal Oil Point in Isla Vista.

In the long term, the suit alleges the spill will result in lost profits from the harm caused to the fishery habitats as well as the damaged reputation of fish and shellfish from the spill area.  

“Santa Barbara values and relies on clean beaches and clean oceans,” said Cheverez's attorney, Matthew Preusch with the Seattle firm Keller Rohrback. “This spill threatens that.”

The suit against Plains All American Pipeline is seeking class-action status. Preusch said additional fisherman and businesses affected by the spill are expected to join the suit.

Plains officials did not respond for comment Monday evening. The company set up a claims webpage following the May 19 spill. 

The pipeline, known as Line 901, transports crude oil from Las Flores to Gaviota and then to refineries throughout Southern California.

It remains out of operation as federal regulators investigate the cause of the pipeline's failure. A section of pipe about 50 feet in length where the rupture occurred was taken to an independent metallurgical laboratory in Ohio last week. 

More than 1,400 cleanup workers have arrived at the site of the spill and recovered 11,600 gallons of oily water. Officials said 22 birds and 14 marine mammals have died since the spill, and an additional 46 birds and 30 marine mammals have been rescued.

Cheverez is represented by Seattle law firm Keller Rohrback and San Francisco firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein. 

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