First Lawsuit Filed by Business Against Tennessee Valley Authority

Readers of this column are all-to-familiar with last year’s historic <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/Tennessee_Fly_Ash_Spill">fly ash spill that dumped a mind-boggling 5.4 million cubic yards—over one billion gallons—of toxic coal sludge into Tennessee’s Emory and Clinch rivers and the 300 acres surrounding the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Kingston plant.

We have long expressed concern over the hazards to people and the environment left in the wake of the catastrophic spill that involved a layer of unstable ash sludge—“slimes”—that went undetected, the “construction of retaining walls on top of the ash,” “saturation of the stored ash,” and “pressure exerted by rising stacks,” according to a prior KnoxNews report, citing a consultant’s findings. It took months, but the TVA finally increased the “hazard potential” for some of its ash sites under a self-assessment given to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Associated Press (AP) reported recently.

Now, KnoxNews reports that the TVA is being sued for about $17 million by a Knox County developer in what seems to be the first lawsuit filed by a business related to the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill. The lawsuit was filed on August 18 in federal court by Walt Dickson and New Homes Construction Co. Inc. against the TVA, said KnoxNews. According to papers filed, the lawsuit alleges damages to the Lakefront Estates development located in Rhea County on Watts Bar Lake in Spring City, about 25 miles downstream from Kingston, said KnoxNews.

The dangers to human and animal life and ecology from the spill are widely known and the recent lawsuit alleges that increased heavy metal toxin levels—for instance lead, thallium, and arsenic—are in the river water, reported KnoxNews. Those levels, according to the lawsuit, allegedly caused property values in the 90-acre Lakefront
Estates to plummet and adversely affected development of aquatic recreation, said KnoxNews. “As a result of TVA’s conduct described herein, Plaintiffs have lost the sale of multiple lots, the development has diminished in value, the recreational amenities afforded by the development have been substantially affected, and the whole development and its purpose herein described, has been unreasonably interfered with by TVA as a result of the spill,” stated the lawsuit, quoted KnoxNews.

We have written that information pointing to “significantly higher cancer risks” for those living near coal-fired power plant ash dumps was allegedly covered up by the recent Bush Administration, citing a report by EnvironmentalIntegrity.org. Apparently, the 2002 EPA Risk Screening Report was only finally released in 2009 after President Barack Obama and his administration took office, said Environmental Integrity.

The lawsuit also alleges that TVA reports and a review of the ash spill by TVA’s
Inspector General allege that the authority did not “take proper measures to prevent the spill,” said KnoxNews. For instance, we previously wrote that Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the report shows that correct site characterization did not occur when site expansions took place, adding, “The report points to structurally weak slimes in the foundation from historic ash disposal as a significant contributing factor…. One would think that TVA, with its vast engineering experience, would have known to look for this material,” reported KnoxNews.

There are about seven federal lawsuits that involve hundreds of property owners as well as four class action suits also in the works against the utility authority, reported KnoxNews.

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