Court motion in TVA ash spill seeks to combine suits

posted on:
February 24, 2010

author:
SCOTT BARKER

category:
Environmental

Plaintiffs in three class action federal lawsuits over the giant Kingston coal ash spill have joined forces in litigation against the Tennessee Valley Authority and two of its consultants.

The amended complaint, filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court, is somewhat changed from the previous three complaints and redefines the class of potential plaintiffs – a number that could run into the hundreds. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, plus payment for medical monitoring for anyone who joins in the action.

“This new filing should move the case forward more quickly and efficiently,” said Rhon Jones, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “It should also allow the claims of those seeking class action status to speak with one unified voice.”

The plaintiffs allege TVA essentially trespassed on their property; was negligent in designing, building and operating the Kingston Fossil Plant ash impoundment; violated federal and state environmental regulations; and committed other civil violations resulting from the Dec. 22, 2008, spill.

Two of TVA’s engineering consultants, Geosyntec Consultants Inc. and WorleyParsons Corp., are included as defendants in some of the allegations.

TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said the utility would not comment on the allegations outside the courtroom.

“The proposed consolidated complaint contains new factual and class allegations and withdraws other prior allegations and claims,” Martocci said Friday. “TVA is reviewing the proposed consolidated complaint and will respond to the motion through court filings.”

The new filing contains three proposed classes of plaintiffs: anyone who owns property in the Swan Pond community around the plant north of the Clinch River; anyone who lived in the same area when the spill occurred; and anyone who owns property on Watts Bar Lake from the mouth of the Emory River to Watts Bar Dam.

The collapse of TVA’s ash facility at the Kingston plant dumped about 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash sludge into the Emory River and surrounding countryside. No one was killed, but three houses were destroyed and two dozen damaged. The spill plugged the Emory River channel, and some of the ash has moved downstream during periods of high water flows.

Coal ash, a byproduct of combustion, contains heavy metals like arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium. TVA is nearing the end of the first phase of a three-part cleanup that could cost as much as $1.2 billion, excluding litigation costs and potential fines from regulators.

If U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan agrees to consolidate the cases, the total number of lawsuits related to the spill pending in federal court would drop from 56 to 54.

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