Hotel owners withdraw request to continue battle against oil company

James Fenton The Daily Times
The Daily Times

AZTEC — The case is closed for a pair of Aztec hotel owners.

Tweeti and Linn Blancett have decided to not reopen their case against the owner of a gas station that, according to environmental reports, leaked oil from underground gas tanks to the land under their hotel, the Step Back Inn.

District Court Judge Daylene Marsh approved dismissing the case on Wednesday. The dismissal order states "the above-captioned cause of action shall be and hereby is dismissed in its entirety, with prejudice, with each party to bear its own costs and attorneys' fees ..."

The document adds that, "as grounds for this Stipulation of Dismissal, Plaintiffs and Defendants state that all matters in controversy have been fully settled and compromised."

A motion to reopen the case was filed in district court by attorney H. Steven Murphy, on behalf of the Blancetts, on Dec. 5. The withdrawal was electronically filed by the Blancetts' attorney two weeks later on Dec. 20.

For more than a decade, the Aztec couple have fought Dial Oil -- now Western Refining -- as plaintiffs in a case that charges the oil company with failing to clean up contamination. The contamination was caused when fuel storage tanks underneath Dial's gas station across Aztec Boulevard from the Step Back Inn allegedly leaked and soaked subsurface soil on the business' property.

Both parties arrived at a settlement in early fall, which was contested by Tweeti Blancett in court.

Last month, Marsh presided over a hearing where the Blancetts were accused of violating a non-disclosure agreement in the settlement.

Tweeti Blancett's shared a copy of the settlement agreement -- which included the amount the Blancetts would receive, $425,000 -- with The Daily Times in November. The settlement prohibits the Blancetts from speaking publicly about any facet of their case.

Attorneys representing Western Refining and the Dial family sought to have sanctions against the Blancetts for violating the agreement.

Marsh sealed her decision on those sanctions last month and did not respond to repeated requests for a reason why those documents and her decision were sealed. Those documents could reveal whether or not the couple was fined or otherwise sanctioned for publicly revealing the settlement amount.

"Tweeti's battled Dial Oil for years, and it's cost her a fortune," said Shirley "Sug" McNail, a friend of the Blancetts who said she was there when state engineers opened monitoring wells on the Blancetts' hotel property and smelled the fumes of "stale gasoline" coming from the wells. "That contamination's there and somebody needs to clean it up. Somebody someday sure will."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.