In this Dec. 22, 2008, file photo, an aerial view shows homes that were destroyed when a retention pond wall collapsed at the Tennessee Valley Authorities Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority and one of its contractors by three East Tennessee governments seeking to recover damages from the 2008 coal ash spill at TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant.

In a 20-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan in Knoxville said Roane County and two of its cities, failed to file their claims against TVA and its prime contractor hired to clean up the coal ash spill within the 3-year statute of limitations for such civil suits. Varlan ruled the local governments also failed to prove there was any "fraudulent concealment" by TVA of the ruptured coal ash pond and its environmental damages.

The cities of Kingston and Harriman, along with Roane County government, had claimed in a lawsuit filed in May 2019 that TVA and Jacobs Engineering hid internal records from the public and lied to the public about the cleanup and dangers from the Kington coal ash spill. The incident three days before Christmas nearly 12 years ago spilled 7.3 million tons of coal residue on to neighboring properties and into the Emory and Clinch rivers in one of the biggest pollution spills in U.S. history.

"Plaintiffs as governmental bodies cannot reasonably contend that ordinary diligence and inquiry into (what the lawsuit said was) "the largest environmental disaster in United States history" would not have revealed the dangerous effects of fly ash, one of the toxic chemicals released by the spill, and the threat it posed to plaintiffs' communities, particularly in light of a six-year federal public investigation inot, and the cleanup of, the 2008 spill which was conducted between 2009 and 2015.," Varlan said in his ruling issued Wednesday.

The ruling could still be appealed by the local governments. In their lawsuit filed last year, the cities of Kingston and Harisman along with Roane County argued that TVA and Jacobs "conspired to keep secret from the public, their neighbors, the constituents of the fly ash and that the fly ash contained radioactive material, all of which is harmful to human health.

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In this Monday, Dec. 29, 2008 file image provided by Greenpeace, coal ash slurry left behind in a containment pond near the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant is shown in Harriman, Tenn., after the dyke at left broke Dec. 22, 2008. (AP Photo/Greeenpeace, Wade Payne)

"Defendants have spent large quantities of ratepayer monies attempting to hide the truth regarding the 'safety' of fly ash, both in public relations campaigns and attorneys' fees defending their unlawful behavior," the lawsuit filed last year claimed.

In a statement Thursday, TVA said it accepted responsibility for the 2008 spill and worked to clean up up the site over the following seven years.

"TVA properly accepted responsibility for the 2008 ash spill," TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said. "We committed to restore the site to as good or better condition than we found it; and according to the regulatory agencies, we have. In 2015, EPA awarded TVA its Excellence in Site Reuse award for going above and beyond to support cleanup, ecological restoration, and community revitalization."

TVA spent more than $1 billion cleaning up the Kington coal ash spill and aiding area environmental cleanup efforts. The 2008 accident also spurred regulators to adopt new requirements for ash containment at coal-burning power plants across the United States.


Read the court ruling dismissing the lawsuit against TVA and Jacobs Engineering


Jacobs Engineering and TVA still face legal challenges from the workers that Jacobs hired for the cleanup. Those who worked on the ash cleanup reported a variety of illnesses, including lung cancer and leukemia, that they claim is linked to contaminants in the ash.

A federal jury in Knoxville in 2018 found Jacobs guilty of failing to protect the health of cleanup workers which enabled the workers to seek damages from the company in another court action. But no court date is yet scheduled for such a trial.

Jacobs reportedly offered about $10 million to settle the claims, which the workers reportedly rejected.

"It is disappointing that after many months of negotiations, the parties failed to reach a final settlement," Theodore Boutrous, a New York attorney representing Jacobs, said earlier this year.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340.

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