A federal judge in Knoxville has ruled that TVA was responsible for a massive coal ash spill at its Kingston, Tn., facility in 2008.
Judge Thomas Varlan said TVA should have investigated and remedied problems at the site prior to the "catastrophic failure."
Total cleanup costs, which are ongoing, are estimated to exceed $1 billion.
TVA officials said, "Since the spill in December 2008, TVA’s commitment has not wavered – to clean up the spill, protect the public health and safety, restore the area, and, where justified, fairly compensate people who were directly impacted.
"The U.S. District Court today ruled that TVA can be held liable for conduct by TVA that contributed to cause the spill.
"The litigation now will proceed to a second phase where the plaintiffs may attempt to prove they were each directly impacted by the spill on an individual basis.
"TVA remains committed to the full restoration of the community directly impacted by the spill, while being mindful of our responsibility to manage ratepayer dollars.
"TVA has purchased more than 180 properties and settled more than 200 other claims submitted by area residents. TVA also provided $43 million to the Roane County Economic Development Foundation for use by communities in the affected area.
"TVA has taken responsibility for what happened and is committed to restoring the Kingston area. We are following through on our pledge to clean up the ash while protecting public health and safety. The recovery project is expected to continue through 2015.
"TVA has been proud to be part of the Kingston community for more than 50 years, and we look forward to being part of the community for years to come."
For more information on the Kingston recovery go to http://www.tva.gov/kingston/.
Beasley, Allen, the Montgomery, Ala., law firm representing those who have sued TVA, said, "Judge Varlan ruled that 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, Tn., 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.
"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."
Beasley Allen attorneys Rhon Jones, head of the firm’s toxic torts section; Brantley Fry and David Byrne are representing the plaintiffs.
Attorney Jones said, “We are pleased with the ruling and it is apparent that Judge Varlan put a great deal of thought and attention into the opinion. 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.”
Beasley, Allen said, "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.