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Firefighting crews continue to pour water onto a unit after a fire at a Chevron refinery on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012 in Richmond, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Staff)

RICHMOND -- City officials are likely to contract with a high-profile San Francisco law firm to secure damages from Chevron Corp. stemming from last year's massive fire at its Richmond refinery.

In a document released by City Manager Bill Lindsay minutes before Tuesday night's City Council meeting, the city says the "purpose of lawsuit" includes raising " ... Chevron's awareness of the widespread harm to the community in which they live, and the damage they inflict when they ignore repeated safety concerns ..." and compensating the community "for its current and ongoing economic and environmental injuries."

San Francisco-based law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy was listed on the agenda item, which asked the council to approve legal services agreements with the firm for an unspecified amount of money. The meeting stretched to past 1 a.m. with other business, and the council held the contract over until the May 21 meeting.

The item, authored by City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller, said the council has met several times in closed session to discuss the matter.

Tuesday's announcement references an October statement Chevron released following its legal challenge to local and county property tax assessments. Chevron said in October that "while we remain committed to the mediation process, until an agreement is reached we are obligated to take the necessary steps to preserve our legal rights."


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Lindsay's statement said the city's actions in seeking legal representation are no different. "We must also preserve our legal rights, and the rights of our community, in seeking to recover damages from Chevron for the harm that they have caused," the statement read.

Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy made headlines in 2010 when it represented victims of a fire in San Bruno ignited when a PG&E gas line ruptured.

The 250,000-barrel-a-day refinery lost its No. 4 crude unit when a pipe carrying high-temperature, high-sulfur gas oil leaked hydrocarbons that ignited shortly thereafter on Aug. 6. The fire injured several workers and sent more than 15,000 residents to area hospitals with respiratory discomfort and other complaints.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued a report in April concluding that Chevron failed to replace critical components at the refinery over a 10-year period and opted to use clamps rather than replace aging, corroded pipes.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers.