The decision is a victory for hundreds of plaintiffs who sued after a containment dike at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant burst in 2008. About 5 million cubic yards of ash spilled out of a storage pond, flowed into a river and spoiled hundreds of acres in a riverside community 35 miles west of Knoxville.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan said in a written opinion that TVA was negligent in its conduct and will be liable for damages that will have to be proven in the next phase of the ongoing lawsuits.
Doug Brown, 68, is one plaintiff who lives just four miles downriver from where the spill occurred. He and his children and grandchild once enjoyed playing in the water along his property in Kingston, but that changed after the spill.
“We have lost use of this place,” he said. And while he’s pleased with the judge’s ruling, Brown said he’s uncertain he will ever get back what he has lost.
TVA is the nation’s largest public utility and also serves customers in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. It said in a statement that the utility has taken responsibility for the spill and is set on restoring the community.
“Since the spill in December 2008, TVA’s commitment has not wavered — to clean up the spill, protect the public health and safety, restore the area, and, where justified, fairly compensate people who were directly impacted,” the utility said in a statement.
Utility officials had argued at a trial last October that the spill was caused by factors outside the utility’s control, including a “slime” layer of loose ash and silt under the dike.
Varlan said the spill was caused by a combination of TVA’s dike design, continued wet coal ash storage at the plant and geological conditions.
“Had TVA followed its own mandatory policies, procedures, and practices, the subsurface issues underlying the failure of North Dike would have been investigated, addressed, and potentially remedied before the catastrophic failure of December 22, 2008,” he wrote.
TVA is continuing a $1.2 billion cleanup of the spill the Environmental Protection Agency described as one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind. TVA also provided $43 million to the Roane County Economic Development Foundation for use by communities in the affected area.