The Port of Seattle has filed suit against Northwest Airlines, seeking reimbursement for more than $4 million the Port spent cleaning up...

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The Port of Seattle has filed suit against Northwest Airlines, seeking reimbursement for more than $4 million the Port spent cleaning up jet fuel spilled at Sea-Tac International Airport in the 1980s and 1990s.

The suit, filed in King County Superior Court last month, alleges Northwest hasn’t reimbursed the port for removing contaminated soil during the Concourse A expansion project, completed last year.

The Port’s complaint says Northwest accepted responsibility for the spills but that a dispute arose over the level of cleanup required. The Port is seeking repayment, plus other damages to be determined at trial.

The soil was contaminated by Northwest fuel tanks and pipelines for more than a decade, the Port said in its suit.

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Between 1981 and 1986, the Port alleges, Northwest spilled 23,000 gallons of fuel from its fuel farm and facilities at Sea-Tac.

In 1992, a fuel spill from Northwest’s underground pipeline near South Satellite terminal gates S7 and S8 released so much fuel that it pooled on the floor of the airport’s underground baggage-conveyer system, the suit said.

One spill killed fish in Des Moines Creek and another may have contaminated groundwater, the Port said.

Randy Steichen, an attorney at Dorsey & Whitney who is representing Northwest, said it’s not unusual for airlines to spill fuel, and environmental controls in the 1980s weren’t as strict as today. He said the issue is the degree of cleanup required. Northwest maintains the Port cleaned up more than it needed to under the law.

“The dispute is really over the quantity of soils that should have been removed,” Steichen said. “There’s a difference of opinion about what the cleanup standards were and how much had to be hauled away and how it was handled.”

Both sides said they hope to reach a settlement.

On Thursday, Northwest asked that the case be moved to federal court, since it involves entities in different states. Northwest is based in Minneapolis.

Alwyn Scott: 206-464-3329 or ascott@seattletimes.com