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Water crisis settlement papers still being written

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Attorneys for Kanawha Valley residents and businesses still are working with lawyers for West Virginia American Water Company and Eastman Chemical on detailed documents to spell out the terms of a $151 million deal resolving the class-action lawsuit over the January 2014 Kanawha Valley water crisis.

The various sides are scheduled to meet again next week with U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver as part of their continuing effort to “finalize details of the settlement and commit the settlement protocol to writing for consideration by the court,” the judge said in an order issued Monday.

In the one-page order, Copenhaver pushed the trial date in the case back again, this time from Tuesday until April 25. The move mostly is a formality, because no trial is really planned in the case, unless the settlement were to fall apart, and there has been no indication that is likely to happen.

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

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 now are trying to work out the exact language of longer and 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.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

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