$54 Million Maryland Fly Ash Settlement

A Baltimore judge approved a $54 million settlement between Constellation Energy and a group of Gambrills residents whose drinking water was contaminated by fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal.

According to Rick Kuykendall of the Murphy Firm who represented the plaintiffs, the energy company will create a $9.5 million fund for the residents of 84 homes that had contaminated wells and spend another $10 million to clean up and improve the former quarry where the ash was dumped.

Constellation will connect the homes with contaminated wells to the public water supply and to pay the residents’ water bills for a decade.

The energy company agreed to never dump fly ash at the site again — which represents a loss of approximately $17.5 million — and to pay $500,000 to a fund for residents of nearby condominiums. An additional $10 million will go to attorney fees.

Fly ash, which rises from smokestacks when coal is burned, was released into the air in the past. Environmental regulations now require it to be trapped and contained. From 1995 until last year, a contractor working for Constellation dumped fly ash from the Brandon Shores power plant in Pasadena in a former gravel pit near Summerfield Road.

County inspectors found that arsenic and other metals found in fly ash had leached from the quarry into nearby wells, and some residents attributed health problems to the contamination. The state department of the environment fined Constellation $1 million last year for the contamination.

The energy company and lawyers for the residents agreed to the settlement terms in October, and Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Alfred Nance approved the deal yesterday. Constellation has already begun to improve the dumping site and plans to have the 84 homes connected to the public water supply by the end of 2010, spokeswoman Maureen Brown said.

The ash currently produced by Brandon Shores is being taken to a Virginia facility, she said. Last week, a massive coal ash spill near Knoxville, Tenn., covered 300 acres in sludge and damaged a dozen homes.

(Video) Scott Drake and Rick Kuykendall

Posted on February 11, 2009 .