Water crisis settlement checks may be ‘imminent’

September 4, 2018
Water crisis settlement checks may be 'imminent'

On the night that thousands of Kanawha Valley residents were told not to drink their water, Jack Dent Jr. and his father, Jack Dent Sr., loaded up on bottled water in the parking lot of the Foodland grocery store on Spring Street. Three and a half years after a spill from Freedom Industries tank farm just above West Virginia American Water's intake valve on the Elk River, residents and businesses affected by the spill could see their share of a legal settlement within weeks.

Residents and businesses affected by the 2014 Kanawha Valley water crisis could begin receiving settlement checks in the mail in a matter of weeks.

In a letter dated Thursday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services waived its right to recover portions of the settlement for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries — one of the last steps needed before settlement checks can be sent out.

Lawyers for the businesses and residents have also asked U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver to approve a $1 million settlement with Gary Southern, former president of Freedom Industries. The class-action lawsuit doesn’t directly involve Freedom Industries, but said West Virginia American Water didn’t react to the crude MCHM, which spilled from a storage tank at Freedom Industries into the Elk River in 2014. The lawsuit

also says Eastman Chemical didn’t do enough to warn Freedom Industries of the chemical’s danger. Both companies blame Freedom Industries, which admitted to criminal violations following the spill.

If Copenhaver approves that settlement, that money will be divvied up and added to the settlement checks, said Anthony Majestro, a lawyer for the residents affected by the 2014 chemical spill. The settlement is supposed to cover people who were told not to drink, clean with or bathe in the water for days after the spill.

Once that’s approved, checks will be sent out within seven to 10 days, said Dante diTrapano, another lawyer representing the businesses and residents.

“Our message to the class members is that the payments are imminent,” he said Friday.

Southern’s attorneys proposed a $350,000 settlement to resolve claims about his role in the water crisis, which happened when chemicals spilled into the Elk River drinking water supply, but the settlement wasn’t granted. In a motion to approve the $1 million settlement, lawyers for the businesses and residents said the “cash payment of $1,000,000 from his personal funds is fair, reasonable and adequate.”

And, the lawyers said, approving the settlement “now will ensure that claimants can receive full and timely justice with the terms of the approved class action settlement.”

Reach Kate Mishkin at kate.mishkin@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4843 or follow @katemishkin on Twitter.

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