Civil war battlefield preservation included in spill settlement

BEAUMONT — American Eagle Tankers has agreed to pay for improvements to the Sabine Pass Battleground and add facilities to Walter Umphrey Park as compensation for spilling crude oil in a collision last year.

The projects in Port Arthur are part of a $400,000 settlement agreement with the Texas General Land Office arising from the collision of the Eagle Otome with a barge and the resulting 400,000 gallon spill into the Sabine Neches Waterway.

The company will spend more than $313,000 on the improvements in addition to a fine of $86,600 that will go into the state’s Coastal Projection Fund for use by the agency’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program.

Land Office spokesman Jim Suydam said the tanker company could have ben fined as much as $945,400, but supplemental environmental projects that would directly benefit the affected community were more appropriate under the circumstances.

Improvements to the Sabine Pass Battleground, site of an 1863 Civil War battle, include dredging around the boat launch and lagoon; protective covers for the historic earthen ammunition bunkers; shade shelters; a fish cleaning station and the installation of the USS Clifton’s “walking beam” — a steam engine component salvaged from the ship after it was sunk during an attack by Confederate troops.

“This settlement will be a great benefit to Port Arthur and help preserve part of our state’s history,” Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said in a statement. “That’s a good deal by any account.”

Port Arthur City Manager Steve Fitzgibbons said the city previously settled its claim with American Eagle Tankers for police and fire department response and other expenses relating to the accident on Jan. 23, 2010.

–Sarah Moore, Beaumont Enterprise