By Jessica Dye
(Reuters) - A federal judge in Tennessee has approved a $27.8 million settlement from the Tennessee Valley Authority to more than 800 people affected by a 2008 accident that unleashed a wave of toxic coal sludge, plaintiffs’ lawyers said Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan on Monday signed off on the deal, which resolves 63 lawsuits brought by residents and property owners in eastern Tennessee who said they were affected by the spill at the TVA’s coal-powered Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County, Tennessee. More than a billion gallons of coal ash were spilled, plaintiffs' lawyers said.
“For us, it’s another step toward finishing what we said were going to do, which is to make the community as good or better than it was before the spill,” said Scott Brooks, a spokesman for the TVA.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Rhon Jones, said the settlement was the culmination of more than five years of litigation and mediation with the TVA.
Varlan ruled in 2012 that the TVA was responsible for the spill, which happened after a levee burst at a pond designed to contain coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity at power plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that coal ash contains heavy metals, which can cause cancer and other physical damage.
The spill covered hundreds of acres, forcing residents to evacuate and contaminating the nearby Emory and Clinch rivers, plaintiffs said.
Cleanup efforts from the spill are continuing, and the total cost of the spill is projected to exceed $1.2 billion, according to plaintiffs’ lawyers. The TVA has said it intended to complete restoration of the area by 2015.
The case is In re Tennessee Valley Authority Ash Spill Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, No. 09-009.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye in New York; Editing by Ted Botha and Andre Grenon)