Class action lawsuit filed against Duke Energy over coal ash - | WBTV Charlotte

Class action lawsuit filed against Duke Energy over coal ash

Allen Steam Plant in Belmont (Source: WBTV/File) Allen Steam Plant in Belmont (Source: WBTV/File)
GASTON COUNTY, NC (WBTV) -

Nine people living near Duke Energy power plants have filed a class action lawsuit against the company over coal ash.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, states that the families were sent letters from Duke offering money in exchange for giving up any future legal claims related to coal ash and contaminated well water.

The plants and their neighbors mentioned in the lawsuit include the Allen Plant in Gaston County, the Buck Plant in Rowan County, the Marshall Plant in Catawba County, the Cliffside Plant in Cleveland County and five other plants across North Carolina.

In early December 2016, Duke issued a press release stating the company would be giving a "financial supplement" and permanent water replacement to neighbors whose water supply had been affected by coal ash.

"Duke’s formal press release dated December 7, 2016 failed to include any mention of a release of liability. Rather, it touted that the utility would be '[o]ffering eligible property owners a connection to a public water supply and/or installation of whole-home water filter systems' for 'about 950 eligible households,'” the lawsuit states.

Document: Click here to read Duke Energy's Dec. 7 release

The lawsuit states that on January 13, The NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) approved the plans for supplying neighbors with a permanent water replacement. It was only after that approval and into January and February, the lawsuit states, that 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" for the financial supplement agreement.

Lawsuit: Click here to read the complete lawsuit filed Wednesday

The handout, mailed to those families in late January, "still did not state the actual language of the release," according to the lawsuit. It wasn't until late July that they received the final language of the supplement agreement.

The final page of that agreement states:

BY ENROLLING IN THE FINANCIAL SUPPLEMENT PROGRAM AND ACCEPTING THESE BENEFITS FROM DUKE ENERGY, I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT DUKE ENERGY HAS FULLY COMPENSATED ME FOR ANY HARM OR LOSS THAT I HAVE SUFFERED, OR MAY SUFFER, AS A RESULT OF ANY CONTAMINATION IN MY WELL WATER AT THE PROPERTY IDENTIFIED BELOW, INCLUDING ANY INJURY TO ME OR DAMAGE TO MY PROPERTY, THAT IS ALLEGED TO HAVE BEEN CAUSED BY DUKE ENERGY OR ANY OF ITS AFFILIATES. I, INDIVIDUALLY, AND ON BEHALF OF MY HEIRS, SUCCESSORS AND ASSIGNS, AGREE NOT TO SEEK ANY FURTHER COMPENSATION FROM, OR TAKE ANY LEGAL ACTION AGAINST, DUKE ENERGY OR ANY OF ITS AFFILIATES ARISING FROM OR RELATING TO ANY CONTAMINATION OF WELL WATER OR DAMAGE TO MY PROPERTY ALLEGEDLY CAUSED BY DUKE ENERGY’S COAL COMBUSTION RESIDUAL IMPOUNDMENTS.

The lawsuit alleges that instead of giving residents the promised "peace of mind," the language made neighbors "more concerned than ever."

"Duke after insisting its coal ash waste was safe, now wanted a broad release of any claims of contamination, harm or loss, based on what the homeowners 'alleged' when they had not even sued," the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs are asking for Duke to perform the financial supplement with the release term stricken.

Duke sent a statement regarding the lawsuit Wednesday afternoon.

This is obviously another effort by trial lawyers to make money for themselves when the company is already doing more than anyone to care for our plant neighbors.

Specifically, the company is voluntarily offering a financial package to plant neighbors that is above and beyond what the law requires, which they can choose to accept or decline. If they accept the package, it is customary to sign a waiver, closing out the issue once and for all. Remember, neighbors are welcome to accept the package or not. It is up to them and them alone. Regardless of whether they accept the voluntary package, the will still receive the permanent new water supply.

In addition to a voluntary financial package, other actions the company has taken to bring this issue to a close for plant neighbors include:

  • We voluntarily offered bottled water when others caused needless worry and concern. 
  • We supported a new law to provide neighbors with a permanent new water supply even though a strong body of evidence demonstrates that ash basins are NOT impacting their wells.
  • We did all of this to provide our neighbors with peace of mind and also to preserve the full range of science-based closure options to safely protect the environment and to benefit all customers.

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