Associated Press Published

Lawyers Still Working on Terms of Water-Crisis Settlement

Elk River

More than three months after a tentative settlement was announced, lawyers are still trying to work out documents to spell out terms of a $151 million deal resolving a class-action lawsuit over a West Virginia chemical spill that tainted a local water system.

Lawyers for area residents and businesses, West Virginia American Water Co. and Eastman Chemical met for nearly two hours Tuesday with U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. The purpose was to discuss “the progress of finalization of the settlement agreement,” according to a court docket entry that offered no other details of the closed-door conference.

Tentative settlements were reached in late October between lawyers for hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses and attorneys for West Virginia American Water and Eastman Chemical.

In an order made public Thursday, Copenhaver pushed the trial date in the case back from Feb. 7 to March 21. The move is mostly a formality, because no trial is planned in the case, unless the settlement were to fall apart, and there has been no indication that is likely to happen.

Under the deals, West Virginia American would pay up to $126 million and Eastman up to $25 million to residents, businesses and workers who were unable to use their tap water during the “do not use” order period that followed the contamination of the region’s Elk River water supply by a spill of MCHM and other chemicals from the Freedom Industries facility just 1.5 miles upstream from the water company intake.

Lawyers are now trying to work out the exact language of more detailed settlement documents that must be submitted to Copenhaver for his review and approval and for a public review period that allows members of the plaintiff class to object or opt-out of the deal.

More information about how residents and businesses can file claims for compensation will be made public once those formal settlement documents are publicly filed with the court.

Since the tentative settlement was announced, Copenhaver has held at least 10 closed-door meetings with lawyers in the case to discuss the exact language of the settlement documents those lawyers are trying to finalize.