by Max Brantley
Spokesman Aaron Stryk said assistance would continue indefinitely* and not end Sept. 1, as a number of residents had learned was the plan this week. "Each resident is going to be different," he said. "We're going to work with them to meet their individual needs. If they need more time, we'll look at each individual situation and find the best solution."
The news of Exxon's decision came first, coincidentally, from U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, a past recipient of ExxonMobil campaign funds and an outspoken proponent of the pipeline industry.
Griffin yesterday had complained about Exxon's decision, but he was not alone. State Sen. David Sanders of Little Rock, who represents the area, spoke sharply about Exxon's decision. So, too, did Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. Residents of the neighborhood complained bitterly to reporters about the premature termination of support.
No resident has yet moved back into a home Only two residents have moved back into homes, though Exxon has said it believes several have been deemed safe for occupancy (Exxon spokesman Aaron Stryk said other residents are "in various stages of moving back"). Nor has Exxon completed any deals to buy homes from affected homeowners.
Exxon's handling of homeowners, along with its continuing refusal to fully discuss engineering information on the pipeline break and to move toward meeting Central Arkansas Water concerns about the pipeline's presence in the Lake Maumelle watershed, contributed to a growing public relations problem for the energy giant. It puts Griffin, particularly, in a tough spot. He ran for office in 2012 on a steady diet of commercials featuring him in a yard of pipe for oil pipelines and has constantly defended their safety and the corporate citizenship of giant energy companies.
UPDATE: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has issued a statement:
"As I said yesterday, no families have left their homes to live in a motel because that's what they wanted to do.
"Although I am happy that Exxon has retreated from the coldhearted policy that it announced just yesterday, I am again frustrated with the company. I am angry that families had to experience that level of stress and that it took so much public outcry for Exxon to change its position."
*UPDATE: Aaron Stryk emailed to point out the ambiguity of the word "indefinite" could be understood to mean housing assistance could continue forever. Rather, it's now only for an unspecified length of time. He wrote: "Eventually, it should come to an end, but when that happens, however, depends on each resident’s situation." So, to be clear, the program no longer has a set expiry date, but it isn't meant to persist in perpetuity.