CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Those who were affected by the Kanawha Valley’s water contamination a few years ago seem unlikely to get as much settlement money as expected.
The 2014 Elk River chemical spill and water emergency affected hundreds of thousands of residents in parts of nine West Virginia counties.
A federal judge signed a final order Friday, releasing $151 million in settlement funds.
U.S. District John Copenhaver wrote that the high percentage of response by class members in the filing of claims will result in residents receiving less in settlement money than originally anticipated.
“What is quite clear is that there will not be sufficient funds to pay the entirety of the amounts that were presented in the class notice as being the projected claim recoveries,” Copenhaver’s order stated.
“The likelihood, as seen at this juncture, is that he recoverable amount on the allowed claims will be in the range of twenty percent less than the projected figures set forth in the class notice to file claims.”
The claim forms filed totaled about $162 million.
The settlement amount from West Virginia American Water Company and Eastman Chemical was $151 million.
“The Settlement Administrator has been overwhelmed by the filing of some 87,000 simple residential forms (also containing claims of 126,000 additional residents) as well as some 6,750 simple business and government claims, and 2,700 individual review claims,” Copenhaver said.
The original class was made up of 224,000 residents and 8,000 businesses.
Class counsel Kevin Thompson says no one saw a response like this coming.
“What this really shows is that it shows corporate America that people in places like Charleston are not going to stand for having their water polluted,” he said. “I don’t care how complex the claim form is. I don’t care how long the litigation has to take.”
The framework for minimum claim payments originally approved for those filing simple claims were as follows:
Residential households – $550 + $180 per additional resident
Shut down business claims – $1,875 plus 4% of annual revenue up to $41,875
Lodging business claims – $5,000 to $64,000 based on annual revenue.
Other businesses – $1,875
Nonprofit organizations – $1,875
A 20-percent reduction would mean $110 less on the residential household claim — a new total of $440.
Copenhaver’s final order also spells out the attorneys involved in the case would also get less — from the preliminary approval of 25 percent down to 22 percent.
The process of going through the claims to make sure they were filed by those eligible to be part of the class continues. The order says those denied can file an appeal within 30-days after notification.
The lawsuit alleges West Virginia American Water Company was prepared for what happened just a short distance upstream from its Kanawha Valley Plant on the Elk River in Charleston when the chemical MCHM spilled from the Freedom Industries tank farm. Eastman Chemical was sued because it was the maker of MCHM. Both agreed to settle but neither admitted fault. Both companies have blamed Freedom Industries. That company went bankrupt shortly after the spill.
The spill of MCHM on the Elk River contaminated drinking water for more than 300,000 residents in parts of nine West Virginia counties on Jan. 9, 2014, creating a water emergency.