Kentucky Landowners Settle Suit Over Uranium Leaks

Landowners settled long-running lawsuit involving multiple companies, including Lockheed Martin, for $1.75 million over allegations leaks from uranium enrichment plant devalued property.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- A group of landowners have settled in a long-running lawsuit for $1.75 million over allegations that water leaks from a western Kentucky uranium enrichment plant devalued property values.

Edmund Schmidt, a Nashville, Tenn., attorney representing the landowners living near the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, about 10 miles west of Paducah, confirmed the settlement on Tuesday. Schmidt said the funds are aimed at compensating between 70 and 80 homeowners for the devaluation of their property because of radiation contamination.

"Some of these people were skeptical if they'd ever see anything," Schmidt told The Associated Press.

The homeowners sued multiple companies, including Lockheed Martin and Union Carbide, in 1997, saying radiation contamination by air and water had ruined their land and well water and sickened residents.

Gail Rymer, a spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin in Knoxville, Tenn., confirmed the settlement, but declined to give details.

The homeowners sued in 1997, claiming that air emissions, combined with about 10 billion gallons of polluted groundwater, had damaged their property near the only uranium enrichment plant in the United States.

They also claimed they lost use of their property and suffered loss to plants, crops, livestock and wildlife. Aside from land devaluation, the landowners claimed the plant was a nuisance and sought unspecified punitive damages.

Schmidt said homeowners will receive 11 percent of the value of their land based on a 1999 appraisal done in conjunction with the lawsuit.

"I think most people are pretty happy this is coming to a close," Schmidt said.

Schmidt and Rymer said the final settlement paperwork is still being completed, but should be done in the coming weeks.

None of the companies sued have held contracts with the U.S. Department of Energy to work at the Paducah plant for at least a decade. The United States Enrichment Corp., took over the plant in the early 1990s as part of a U.S. government effort to transition the plants from government run to the private sector.

USEC was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Jen Stutsman, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said it has spent $1.2 billion cleaning up Paducah and other Cold War-era nuclear sites. Under contracts signed to operate the plant, the U.S. Department of Energy pays for the defense of the two companies in lawsuits related to the operations of the facility.

The case has bounced around the state and federal legal systems for more than a decade. The 6th Circuit asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to clarify several aspects of Kentucky state law, prolonging the case.

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled then that the landowners don't have to prove they were actually harmed to sue past contractors for trespassing by allowing contaminants to spread beyond the plant.

The high court also held that land devaluation by intentional trespassing is a recognized measure of damages once actual injury is determined. There is injury if groundwater is contaminated and it can't be consumed.

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