As previously reported, our firm filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of property owners damaged by the Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee. The spill, which garnered national attention in December 2008, occurred when the TVA slurry retaining pond failed and released 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash.
The visual devastation resulting from the coal ash spill was mindboggling. In total, nearly 300 acres were obliterated by 1 billion gallons of toxic sludge that measured nine feet deep in some areas. The Environmental Integrity Project estimated that 124 million gallons of coal ash were deposited at the TVA plant between 2000 and 2006 at 2.2 million pounds per year.
The environmental ramifications from the spill are even more disturbing. Before the spill, the Kingston plant was named to a list of the top 50 worst toxic chemical sites. Toxins within the coal ash include arsenic, lead, chromium, manganese, and barium. Associated with these toxins are the following health problems: cancer, liver damage and neurological problems among a host of other issues. Recently, health officials warned Kingston residents that dust associated with the spill would hamper cleanup efforts as well as pose a respiratory threat to workers and residents alike. Nearly one third of residents located near the spill are already experiencing breathing issues.
On October 20, 2008, inspectors deemed the Kingston Fossil Plant’s fly ash pond structurally sound. Interestingly, the inspectors were not even afforded the opportunity to finish their investigation before the pond collapsed. Based on prior annual reports, leaks, erosion, seepages, waterlogged walls and failed attempts to reconcile stability issues dot the history of the Kingston Plant’s retaining pond. To put these issues in perspective, the dam was attempting to retain ash piles and sludge that towered 70 feet high alongside the Emory River. Jack Spadaro, a retired mining engineer who investigated a 1972 coal dam break in West Virginia that killed 125 people, believes TVA’s inspection agency was “irresponsible” for failing to see the stability issues that plagued the dam.
While cleanup, waste disposal and costs are still speculative, TVA recently increased its estimates to range from $675 million to $975 million, an increase of $150 million from previous estimates. In addition, there does not appear to be a firm estimate on how long the cleanup will take or where it will send the coal ash and other debris generated by the cleanup activities. The State of Pennsylvania has already rejected plans to deposit the coal ash in their state because the substance is too contaminated. Unfortunately, it is looking more likely that poor citizens in Alabama will bear the cost of TVA’s poor judgment.
Recently, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management reported that it received notice from the TVA that 3 million cubic yards of the sludge would be deposited in a Uniontown, Perry County, Alabama landfill. The area is predominately inhabited by some of Alabama’s poorest residents. If the Environmental Protection Agency agrees, TVA will begin shipping the 85 railcars loaded with toxic coal ash beginning on June 16th. As of the writing of this article, there is still no word on whether the Perry County, Alabama landfill will be a final resting place for the coal ash.
As of mid-April, TVA had paid $20 million dollars to purchase over 220 acres of land affected by the spill. Over two-thirds of these 70 parcels have houses, trailers, or other structures on them. TVA’s buyout program requires landowners to give up their right to pursue legal recourse against TVA, and it is unclear whether residents, in their desperation to leave the hazardous conditions, are getting fair deals.
In addition to the hardships that individual landowners suffer when relocating from their property, the County also is affected due to lost revenues. As property values decline due to the spill, so do the tax revenues associated with those properties. Therefore, Roane County likely will suffer from a lower tax base even though TVA has assured county officials that it will pay taxes on the property TVA purchases. As a tax-exempt entity, TVA normally is not required to pay property taxes. Diminished property values and the resulting loss in tax revenue affects all of the citizens of Roane County.
Our firm is working on behalf of individuals and a class of clients in this lawsuit to accomplish the following:
• Bring about a complete clean-up of the area;
• Ensure that our clients are fully compensated for the damage to their property (including their property values); and,
• Obtain long-term medical monitoring relief for area residents who have been exposed to the toxic contaminants in TVA’s coal ash sludge.
While still in its infancy, quite a bit of work has already been accomplished in this litigation. Corporate Representative depositions have already commenced, and lawyers from our firm are assisting in the various discovery issues that a case of this magnitude involves. If you need additional information on this subject, contact Rhon Jones or David Byrne in our firm at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com or David.Byrne@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: Knoxville News Sentinel and Associated Press
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