MONTGOMERY, ALA. (August 23, 2012) – U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan ruled that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is liable for the failure of its coal ash storage and containment pond, which was breached in December 2008. The failure of the North Dike of TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County, Tenn., allowed more than 1 billion gallons of ash sludge to envelop the surrounding community. When the containment pond ruptured, the resulting tsunami of coal ash waste knocked homes from their foundations and contaminated the Emory and Clinch rivers. Beasley Allen attorneys Rhon Jones, head of the firm’s Toxic Torts section; Brantley Fry, and David Byrne are representing the Plaintiffs.
In his ruling, Judge Varlan found that TVA did not build the holding ponds according to plan, did not train its inspectors how to inspect the stability of the dikes, and did not properly maintain the facility to prevent the failure of the dikes. The ruling will allow Plaintiffs’ claims of negligence, trespass and private nuisance to proceed to Phase II proceedings to determine damages. Hundreds of people have filed lawsuits alleging damage to their property and health.
“We are pleased with the ruling and it is apparent that Judge Varlan put a great deal of thought and attention into the opinion,” Jones said. “We look forward to presenting our clients’ damages in Phase II of the litigation. This ruling will help allow the residents and property owners affected by the coal ash spill to hold TVA accountable for the destruction of their very way of life. As a government corporation, TVA has certain immunity, but today’s ruling shows that not even the Federal government is above reproach when its actions – or inactions in this case – result in a massive disaster that changed the face of an entire community.”
Cleanup efforts have been ongoing since the spill and are expected to cost around $1.2 billion. The cleanup has turned the once-tranquil Watts Bar Lake community into a massive construction site. The EPA and TVA held public meetings just this month to determine how to deal with 500,000 cubic yards of coal ash that remain on the Emory and Clinch river bottoms to this day.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has described the spill as “one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind.” To put things in perspective with another recent environmental catastrophe, the BP oil spill released more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of nearly five months. The TVA coal ash spill released more than a billion gallons of toxic sludge over 300 acres in East Tennessee within the course of minutes. Toxic sludge from the coal ash containment pond contains arsenic, lead, mercury and other heavy metals.