A class-action lawsuit involving Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds has been dismissed after an agreement was reached with the families involved.
The lawsuit, filed in late August, said families were sent letters from Duke offering money in exchange for giving up future legal claims related to coal ash and contaminated well water.
“After a lengthy process, Duke agreed to changes to the access agreement – a form that lets Duke or other contractors go onto homestead properties,” a letter from the plaintiffs stated. “Duke also agreed to changes to its release – a form that releases Duke from certain claims.”
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The letter says the changes give families more protection than they would have originally received. “The families now have more power to hold Duke accountable for future harms and losses if they occur,” the letter from the plaintiffs reads.
“As we talked with residents, we were able to clarify misinformation and confusion about what is and is not included in the release they’d be asked to sign if they accepted a voluntary financial package,” Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said. “We did not change the offering made to them or all eligible neighbors, but are pleased that through education, a lawsuit without merit was dismissed. Now we can continue to focus on providing permanent water solutions to our plant neighbors.”
Sheehan said the company “voluntarily offered a financial package to all eligible plant neighbors and supported a law that offers them a permanent new water supply, even though evidence indicates ash basins are not responsible for the constituents in their wells.”
A fact sheet regarding the financial supplement is posted at http://bit.ly/2GnvavB.
The lawsuit was dismissed on Thursday. Details of the settlement are confidential, Sheehan said.
“As has been the company’s position all along, there are no special financial benefits or other provisions for plant neighbors involved in the lawsuit,” she said. “In other words, all residents, regardless of whether they are represented, continue to be treated equally, and in a fair and equitable manner.”
A December 2016 Duke news release said the company would give a “financial supplement” and permanent water replacement to neighbors whose water supply had been affected by coal ash.
The lawsuit said the news release failed to mention a release of liability. Rather, it “touted” the utility’s offer to connect eligible property owners to a public water supply and/or install water filter systems for about 950 eligible households.
The lawsuit said that in January 2016, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality approved the plans for supplying neighbors with a permanent water replacement. Only after that approval did homeowners learned Duke was “requiring execution of a release that would mean residents would give up their right to sue Duke over coal ash claims anytime in the future,” according to the lawsuit.
WBTV is a news partner of The Charlotte Observer.