Constellation, Gambrills residents settle fly-ash suit

The Baltimore Sun

A group of Anne Arundel County residents whose drinking water was contaminated with coal ash reached a multimillion-dollar settlement yesterday of its class action lawsuit against Constellation Energy Group.

The deal, estimated at $45 million, gives about 600 residents living near a former Gambrills sand and gravel mine financial compensation and environmental remediation.

For 12 years until last fall, Constellation worked with a contractor to dump billions of tons of waste ash from its Brandon Shores coal-fired power plant into an unlined former gravel mine pit. County tests found that 23 wells in the area tested positive for metals such as arsenic, cadmium and thallium, all components of waste ash from smokestacks, also called "fly ash."

A suit seeking to represent local residents was filed in November 2007 in Baltimore Circuit Court to make Constellation pay unspecified damages for personal injuries and loss of property values.

"This community has really suffered, and this is the first step in the healing process for them," said Hassan Murphy, managing partner of The Murphy Firm in Baltimore, which worked with Peter G. Angelos' law firm to resolve the lawsuit. "It really provides that people could drink water safely, and they'll be drawing from public water. The children and families can continue to live in their homes safely."

Under the settlement, 84 homes - previously connected to private wells, some of which tested positive for contaminants - will be hooked up to a public water system at a cost of $7.5 million paid for by Constellation, Murphy said.

Residents of those households also will have access to a $9.5 million trust fund for claims and to provide site enhancements. A second fund, for $500,000, will be established for adjoining property owners.

The settlement also covers an unspecified amount for remediation and restoration of the former quarry site and a commitment to cease future deliveries of coal ash. The deal is subject to approval by the Circuit Court.

"We settled rather than proceed with a trial because we worked out a constructive solution that we believe benefits the community and at the same time protects the environment," Constellation spokesman Rob Gould said.

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