NASHVILLE — A federal judge has approved an agreement by the nation's largest public utility to pay $27.8 million to settle claims from Tennessee property owners who suffered damages from a huge, 2008 spill of toxin-laden coal ash sludge.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan approved the settlement on Monday.
The spill happened when a containment dike burst at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant, releasing more than 5 million cubic yards of ash from a storage pond. The sludge flowed into a river and spoiled hundreds of acres in a riverside community 35 miles west of Knoxville.
Varlan ruled in 2012 that TVA was liable for the spill. He wrote in his opinion that if TVA had followed its own policies, the problems that led to the dike failure would have been investigated and addressed.
The settlement is with more than 800 property owners.
TVA did not comment on the judge's approval. However, the agency said in a news release earlier this month that the settlement is a "significant milestone" and reiterated the utility's commitment to "completing the Kingston recovery project and restoring the community to as good as or better than it was before the spill."
The Environmental Protection Agency says coal ash contains toxic contaminants including arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and other metals.
An estimated 500,000 cubic yards of ash remain at the bottom of the Emory and Clinch rivers. In 2012, the EPA approved a plan to leave the remaining ash in place because dredging it would stir up contaminants.
TVA has agreed to monitor the site for 30 years at a cost of about $10 million. The utility is also converting its other wet-storage coal ash facilities to dry storage at a total cost of $1.5 to $2 billion, TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield said. That work is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2022.
TVA has about 9 million customers in seven states, most of them in Tennessee.