Madison-Kipp and neighbors agree to $7.2 million in settlements in pollution dispute

Madison-Kipp and neighbors agree to $7.2 million in settlements in pollution dispute

Source: Wisconsin State Journal, July 17, 2013
By: Ed Treleven

Madison-Kipp and two groups of neighbors who sued the East Side vehicle parts manufacturer have agreed to the settlement of the class action lawsuits in state and federal courts for cash payments totaling $7.2 million.

The company also agreed to replace contaminated soil on some neighboring properties and install pollution control equipment in homes. The agreements were filed Monday in Dane County Circuit Court and U.S. District Court in Madison.

There will be a hearing on preliminary approval of a proposed $2.6 million settlement on Wednesday before Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess in the case involving 52 neighboring homes on South Marquette, Waubesa, Dixon and Fairview streets.

The other lawsuit, involving a $4.6 million settlement that encompasses a separate set of 33 homes, also on South Marquette and Waubesa streets, will have a hearing on final approval before U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb after Oct. 24.

That 33-home lawsuit, filed in federal court in October 2011, alleged Kipp failed for more than 15 years to adequately investigate and clean up contaminants that include the human carcinogen tetrachloroethylene, or PCE.

Neighbors charged that releases of PCE and other chemicals poisoned the groundwater beneath neighborhood homes and the contaminants seeped in vapor form through the soil and into the houses.

The federal lawsuit alleged there were 34 homes among those affected but one homeowner declined to join the class action lawsuit. All of the homes are on the west side of the 100 and 200 blocks of South Marquette Street and the east side of the 200 block of Waubesa Street, adjacent to Kipp’s Waubesa Street plant.

The state lawsuit, filed in November 2012, involves 52 homes on the west side of the 200 block of Waubesa Street, the east side of the 100 and 200 blocks of South Marquette Street, the east side of the 100 and 200 blocks of Dixon Street and the 2900 block of Fairview Street.

It alleges the contamination diminished the value of homes in the area and endangered the health of those living in them.

Chicago lawyer Michael Hayes, one of the lawyers for homeowners in both lawsuits, said Tuesday he had no comment on the settlements at this point but said a news release would be issued Tuesday or Wednesday.

In a statement, Kipp said it continues to deny its neighbors’ allegations but is settling the claims to resolve the conflicts with them.

“Madison-Kipp believes the language in the settlement agreements now reflects the most recent and exhaustive environmental research ever conducted at the site, and we look forward to a mutually agreeable resolution that will set the stage for a more cooperative and trusting relationship going forward,” said Tony Koblinski, Kipp President and CEO.

A settlement of an environmental lawsuit filed by the state of Wisconsin against Kipp is still being negotiated, said Mark Meunier, Kipp’s vice president of human resources.

Under terms of the settlements:

• Of the cash portion of the settlements, the lawyers would receive one-third. The average monetary payout for each property owner in the federal lawsuit involving 33 of the homes would be about $82,000 per property, while the average payout for each of the 52 homes involved in the state lawsuit would be about $32,000, both depending upon the assessed value of individual homes.

• Class representatives in the federal lawsuit would each get another $10,000, while class representatives in the state lawsuit would each get an additional $5,000.

Kipp agreed to continue to investigate and remediate environmental conditions. The company will also pay for each home to receive a sub-slab depressurization system, similar to those used in radon remediation, which draw gases out from under the homes, along with a soil vapor extraction system.

Homes under the federal settlement, whose backyards abut Kipp’s plant, will also have the top foot of soil removed from lawn and garden areas and replaced with clean fill and sod.

Kipp also agreed in both cases to install a network of vapor probes at its plant to monitor vapor levels, commit to actions directed by the state Department of

Natural Resources related to groundwater remediation, work with DNR and city of Madison officials to protect City Well 8 and other public drinking water sources and continue to work with the DNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to restore the environment around the plant.

While the settlements would release Kipp from the claims asserted in the lawsuits, it does not preclude or limit anyone from asserting individual claims against the company involving sickness, disease, physical injury or death caused by exposure to chemicals alleged to have been released by the plant.

Homeowners who have been designated as members of the affected class in each lawsuit must now file claim forms that will be sent to them.

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