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12-year composter suit settled

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A 12-year-old lawsuit against the designers of Charleston's ill-fated composting facility has finally been settled, City Council members learned Monday.O'Brien & Gere, the New York-based engineers that designed the former sewage sludge composting facility in North Charleston, agreed to settle the city's suit for about $3.6 million, including interest, Mayor Danny Jones said.Lawyers for the city sued the engineers in October 2000, alleging the facility they designed in 1994 and opened in 1998 never worked properly. It has since been converted to make compost and mulch out of yard waste."We settled that case -- a botched engineering job," Jones told members of council's Finance Committee. "We settled after we litigated it. We had a long trial in front of [Kanawha Circuit] Judge Zakaib."The wonderful engineering company, in the end they wanted a confidentiality agreement," he said. But because of a precedent-setting case brought by the Gazette years ago, government settlements must be public, Jones said."We absolutely said we wouldn't agree to those stipulations. It was a very successful conclusion to a long case."
Zakaib, in an October 2011 ruling, awarded the Charleston Sanitary Board $1.57 million in damages and $1.06 million in interest. But the case was still pending because a third party was involved, said Larry Roller, the sanitary board general manager.By the time the company agreed to settle on Dec. 20, interest charges had doubled to about $2 million, Roller said. The sanitary board will get $2.6 million from the settlement, and lawyers will get the remaining $900,000, he said."It never worked," Roller said of the hilltop facility in Copenhaver Park. "It was a noble experiment that didn't work out economically."In other business Monday, council members approved a $198,999 contract with Thaxton Construction Co. Inc. to build retaining walls along Overbrook Road and Lilly Drive to fix problems on the two roads.The lower end of Overbrook Road has been closed near Stone Road for about two months after an old retaining wall collapsed. Erosion from water seepage threatens a section of Lilly Drive. The repairs could extend through May.Reach Jim Balow at or 304-348-5102.
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