In 1996, the Government of the U.S. Virgin Islands retained Jack Dema to pursue natural resource damages (“NRD”) claims against Esso and Texaco for contaminating the Tutu Wells aquifer in St. Thomas. In the late 1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources (“DPNR”) discovered that the aquifer—which served as the principal source of drinking water for the east end of the island—had been contaminated with chlorinated volatile organic compounds, benzene, and other petroleum hydrocarbons. After tests confirmed the presence of these carcinogenic chemicals, DPNR closed many commercial and private wells in the area, and EPA listed the aquifer as a federal Superfund site. Through litigation brought on behalf of the Government of the U.S. Virgin Islands, the firm recovered millions of dollars from the defendants to pay for environmental remediation projects that EPA and DPNR have undertaken in the area.
The firm’s representation of the Government of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Tutu Wells litigation has been cited as the first known instance of a state or territorial government retaining outside counsel on a contingent fee arrangement to prosecute NRD claims on its behalf.