Following a hearing on September 4, 2013, an Escambia County Circuit Court has granted final approval of a class settlement and certification of a settlement class of property owners affected by the continued migration of a plume of groundwater contamination from the Conoco/Agrico Superfund Site, located in Pensacola, Florida. The class settlement amounts to $9.5 million and includes over 3600 property owners who elected to participate in the settlement. The class settlement contemplates two sub-classes, a primary sub-class of properties most directly impacted by migration of the groundwater plume, and a secondary sub-class of properties owners located at the periphery.
The properties at issue are located in the path of a plume of contamination that has migrated from the former fertilizer production facility over the last 100 years, including chemical constituents such as Radium 226/228, Fluoride, Chloride, Nitrates and Nitrites, and Sulfates, in addition to other pollutants. The result is especially remarkable, because the settlement involves compensation for properties affected by the continued migration of a groundwater contamination plume into a new area past the boundaries of an earlier certified class of property owners. Experts for the plaintiffs were able to show, through a variety of advanced modeling and analysis of the hydrogeology of the area, that since resolution of the earlier settlement class in 2004, the groundwater plume had continued to migrate into a new part of town affecting an entirely new group of property owners.
Nathan Bess, an attorney with Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, said of the result, “This is a development in toxic torts that should be exciting news for groundwater contamination cases, especially when the source contamination has remained unchecked. With regard to the Agrico Site, there was an original class settlement that was the result of excellent work by a very talented group of attorneys and experts, but that result was limited to where the groundwaterplume was determined to be at the time the case resolved. Through additional work by another talented group of experts, we were able to show how the plume continued to migrate into a new part of town. This is important in two respects. First of all, it shows that plaintiffs are able to successfully prosecute litigation involving the later migration of an existing groundwater plume. Secondly, it should provide some greater incentive for polluters to admit where contamination that they are responsible for is might truly end up, not just where they wish it was limited to.”
The determination of eligibility for participation in the class settlement was handled by a class administrator, as will be the distribution of the funds, which should occur this year. Class counsel included Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz of Pensacola, Hanly Conroy Bierstein Sheridan Fisher & Hayes of New York, Cory Watson Crowder & DeGaris of Birmingham, and the Law Office of Sam Bearman of Pensacola. The case is styled Thomas, et al. v. ConocoPhillips, et al.
“This is also great news for Pensacola”, said Bess, “This settlement helps to bring some closure to a sad chapter in the city’s history, and shows that this community will not tolerate big corporations coming to town and ruining our natural resources. Pensacola is a great place to live and do business, but environmental quality is the cornerstone of our success as a community. I’m glad to see property owners affected by this groundwater plume get some of the closure they deserve.”