Source: http://www.stltoday.com, May 23, 2014
by: Blythe Bernhard
Some residents near the smoldering Bridgeton Landfill say they will turn down thousands of dollars in settlement money offered to them last month for enduring foul odors from the site because the money doesn’t cover the loss to their property values and could prevent future lawsuits.
Today marks the first deadline for residents in the 400 homes closest to the landfill to accept or decline the average $12,750 per household agreed to last month in a settlement of a class-action lawsuit. The suit was filed by six Bridgeton residents against the landfill’s owner Republic Services.
“The settlement was sorely inadequate. It’s almost insulting,” said Robbin Dailey, who lives in the Spanish Village subdivision of single-family homes. “We were hoping that it was going to also include loss of value to property and reduction of quality of life.”
Dailey said her home was recently appraised and devalued by $45,000 because of the landfill issues. One three-bedroom house on San Sevilla Court in Spanish Village is for sale for $63,000. It last sold in 2008 for $136,900, according to a real estate website.
“It’s tainted the real estate market. Who the heck wants to move here?” Dailey said.
About 50 residents of Spanish Village have attended three meetings to discuss the settlement offer. Dailey and others said they did not know of any neighbors who are accepting the payout. Two dozen homes in the subdivision have yard signs opposing the settlement. Some speculated that older residents or those in a nearby mobile home park and condominiums might be more likely to take the money.
The settlement notices, giving residents 30 days to respond, were sent out at different times, so the deadlines are staggered for homeowners to decide.
The settlement awards vary based on property values and proximity to the landfill. After attorneys’ fees, households in Spanish Village could receive $26,250, while those in the Terrisan Reste mobile home community were offered $15,375. The offer for Carrollton Village condominiums was $3,900.
A spokesman for Republic Services called the settlements “fair, reasonable, and adequate.”
“There is a large group of people who seem to think it’s a good, fair-money-fast settlement and want to accept and use the money for options they wouldn’t have otherwise, like pay off debts or get caught up on their mortgage and put their home up for sale,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Ted Gianaris of the Simmons Law Firm in Alton.
Anyone who accepts the settlement cannot file any further claims for property damage due to the landfill’s odor. The settlement does not prevent personal injury lawsuits for future health problems related to the burning landfill, which sits next to radioactive waste at the West Lake landfill.
An underground fire that started at the Bridgeton Landfill more than three years ago has stirred up noxious odors as well as concerns about the adjacent radioactive waste. The odors could get worse because construction is expected to begin soon on a barrier between the Bridgeton and West Lake landfills to keep the fire from reaching the radioactive waste.
Gianaris acknowledged that the uncertainty about the landfills’ future has hurt the chances of getting the settlement approved.
“People are truly worried about their future, and that worry breeds some contempt for settling a lawsuit when they don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week,” Gianaris said.
Local attorney Daniel Finney, who is also suing landfill owner Republic Services, said his interpretation of the settlement deal means residents give up future claims for property damage linked to radioactive contamination. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency started testing the nearby Bridgeton Municipal Athletic Complex, where soil samples collected by residents and analyzed at a private lab showed elevated uranium in two or three spots around the complex.
An Aug. 1 hearing is scheduled for final approval of the class-action settlement. If fewer than 95 percent of residents accept the settlement, the case can be sent back to court for a potential trial.
Lynn Leake, who has lived in Spanish Village since 2000, said some of his family members won’t visit the house for weekend barbecues anymore because of the stench. Leake said he’s turning down the settlement offer.
“We’re not trying to hit the lottery, we just want our fair property value,” Leake said.