Monday, November 06, 2000

Sludge prompts lawsuits

Residents lining up in Martin Co.

The Associated Press

        INEZ, Ky. — Dozens of Martin County residents have gone to court seeking to recover losses from property damage stemming from a massive sludge spill at Martin County Coal Corp.

        At least 44 people have joined four separate lawsuits filed against Martin County Coal, claiming negligence and seeking unspecified damages.

        Lawyers said more suits are on the way.

        “We think everybody in the county has been damaged by the sludge,” said Inez lawyer John W. Kirk, whose law firm filed two of the four suits.

        A lawsuit filed last week by Pikeville lawyer Gary Johnson's firm on behalf of a Martin County couple seeks to include all property owners affected by the spill in one class-action suit.

        Martin County Coal has been working since Oct. 11 to clean up the largest sludge spill in the nation's history.

        A leak in a 72-acre slurry impoundment at Martin County Coal's preparation plant released 250 million gallons of coal waste through underground mines into Wolf Creek and Coldwater Fork.

        “Right after it happened, our phone started ringing, ringing, ringing,” Mr. Kirk said.

        Some lawyers advertised for clients in local newspapers after the spill. Mr. Kirk bought a full-page ad in The Martin County Sun,decrying the spill and offering to help people affected by it.

        Coal company spokesman Bill Marcum cited a corporate policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

        Martin County Coal is a subsidiary of A.T. Massey Coal of Richmond, Va., which is owned by Fluor Corp., a California-based holding company that reported 1999 revenues of $12.4 billion.

        Neither Fluor nor Massey — one of the nation's five largest coal producers — is named in the suits. In June, Fluor announced a decision to spin off its coal holdings and make Massey Energy Co. a separate public company.

        Martin County Coal President Dennis Hatfield has told residents at public meetings that the company intends to pay for the damage it has caused, but that has not stopped the lawsuits.

        “I could almost see the dollar signs in their eyes,” said Ruby Muncy of Inez. “Those people are really angry.”


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