- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A tentative deal has been reached with West Virginia American Water Co in a class-action case over the company’s handling of the 2014 water crisis in the Kanawha Valley, according to lawyers for both sides.

No details were made public, the Charleston Gazette-Mail (https://bit.ly/2eGLdsZ ) reported. But U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver Jr. scheduled a Monday hearing, when attorneys in the case said more information is expected to be available.

Anthony Majestro, who represents plaintiffs in a separate group of state court cases also being settled, said the lawyers for all sides gave the judge “the outline of the terms of a potential settlement” during Friday’s meeting.

“The parties have worked long and hard and have a tentative agreement in principle,” said Stuart Calwell, one of the lead lawyers for the plaintiff class in the federal court case. “It is in the best interests of the community.”

Eventually, a more-detailed settlement proposal will be submitted to the court and, under federal litigation rules, be subject to review - and possible objections - by members of the plaintiff class, as well as review and approval by Copenhaver.

Meanwhile, the judge continued jury selection in the case again, from Monday until Tuesday, reflecting the tentative nature of the settlement.

More than 224,000 residents, more than 7,300 business owners and an undetermined number of hourly “wage earners” were part of the class of plaintiffs that Copenhaver certified more than a year ago for the lawsuit against West Virginia American and Eastman Chemical.

The case targeted the companies for their roles in the contamination of the region’s drinking water following the Jan. 9, 2014, chemical spill at the Freedom Industries Etowah Terminal. The facility, now closed and torn down, was located 1.5 miles upstream from West Virginia America’s regional drinking water intake on the Elk River.

Lawyers for residents and businesses allege West Virginia American did not adequately prepare for or respond to the spill. They claim Eastman did not properly warn Freedom of the dangers of its chemical or take any action when Eastman officials learned the Freedom facility was in disrepair.

West Virginia American and Eastman had planned at trial to point the finger at Freedom, a now-bankrupt company where six top officials pleaded guilty to criminal Clean Water Act violations related to the spill. Freedom the corporate entity also pleaded guilty.

But at trial, plaintiff lawyers were expected to present evidence to argue that West Virginia American failed to keep an adequate backup supply of treated water on hand to respond to just the sort of crisis the spill brought about, and that the water company long ago abandoned a secondary water intake located upstream from the Freedom site.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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