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Feds seek stay in lawsuit over Arkansas oil spill

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Federal prosecutors in Arkansas asked a judge on Wednesday to stay proceedings in their lawsuit against ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. because of the federal government shutdown.

The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Chris Thyer, said in a court filing that most attorneys for the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency can't work on the case during the government shutdown — even on a voluntary basis.

The filing says Exxon does not oppose the stay.

The lawsuit, filed jointly by federal prosecutors and Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, seeks civil penalties for the oil spill in a Mayflower subdivision. Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured in March, spilling thousands of barrels of oil into a neighborhood.

Beyond the court, McDaniel this week wrote to U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, who represents the central Arkansas congressional district where the oil spilled.

"I pledged to the citizens of our state that I would hold Exxon accountable for this spill," McDaniel wrote in a letter dated Tuesday. "The current shutdown, if it remains unresolved, will significantly impede those efforts."

Griffin, in a letter to McDaniel, said he agrees that the shutdown impairs those efforts and said that he opposes a shutdown.

"I continue to urge ExxonMobil and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to ensure that those affected are made whole," Griffin wrote in a letter also dated Tuesday.

The state's environmental equality and health departments, meanwhile, said Wednesday that they've conducted preliminary reviews of soil and sediment samples pulled by ExxonMobil in and around Lake Conway and the affected subdivision in Mayflower.

The agencies said their preliminary reviews found that certain levels in the soil and sediment samples could pose ecological concerns, but the agencies said they're below levels expected to be a public health hazard.

"We're reassured that the results don't show a public health threat," ADEQ's Hazardous Waste Division Chief Tammie Hynum said in a statement. "But the results do show a need for continued remediation to eliminate ecological concerns, particularly in the cove. We have not seen an environmental impact to the main body of Lake Conway."

ADEQ said it has asked ExxonMobil to submit a final data report to the department documenting the sediment, soil and surface water sampling activities and other information no later than Friday.

Exxon spokesman Aaron Stryk said the company plans to submit a report at that point.

"In the meantime, we're still analyzing the data," Stryk said in an email.