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S. Korea ordered to pay city for oil spill cleanup near U.S. base

SEOUL — The South Korean government has been ordered to pay the city of Seoul nearly $300,000 for the cost of cleaning up an oil spill near a U.S. military installation.

City officials believe U.S. Forces Korea was responsible for a leak of aviation oil found in 2006 near Camp Kim and the Samgakji subway station. The U.S. military, however, maintains that it isn’t to blame for the leak and will not pay for any portion of the clean-up.

“The facts do not support a determination of responsibility for the leak,” U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan spokesman Mark Abueg said in an email.

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That has left South Korean officials arguing over who should pay – the city or the national government.

The city sued the South Korea in March 2011 for the cost of the cleanup. Seoul Central District Court ruled Aug. 31 that the national government must pay 340 million won, or roughly $286,000, to the city, saying the status of forces agreement requires the South Korea to compensate a third party damaged by USFK, according to a water management official for the city.

The government allowed a Sept. 22 deadline to pass without filing an appeal to the ruling, according to Kim Byung-chul, a court judge. He said the court based its decision on the city’s assertion that USFK was responsible for the leak. USFK officials did not testify in the case.

The city believes the oil came from Camp Kim because of the installation’s proximity to the leak, he said.

A news release from the city said 459 square meters (4,900 square feet) were polluted and slightly more than 440 liters, or 160 gallons, of oil were removed from the site between February 2009 and November 2010.

USFK met with South Korean officials about the leak in 2006, and again as part of a joint environmental working group in 2010, according to the city’s release. However, USFK blamed the oil leak on a nearby gas station that closed in 2005 and said it found nothing wrong with oil tanks located inside Camp Kim, the release said.

According to court documents, USFK removed an underground storage tank from Camp Kim in December 2006, though the documents did not state whether the tank contained the same kind of aviation oil found at the leak site. The gas station blamed by USFK for causing the leak was not registered as carrying the aviation oil.

A Ministry of Justice official said that if USFK admitted it was responsible for the leak, the national government would have to ask USFK to reimburse it for clean-up costs.

rowlanda@pstripes.osd.mil

chang.yookyong@pstripes.osd.mil

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