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TVA has spent $11M on defense of ash spill

NORTH MISSISSIPPI — The Tennessee Valley Authority has spent almost $11 million so far on outside legal help to battle lawsuits from the Kingston Plant coal ash spill.

The nation’s largest public utility told The Associated Press it paid about $10.8 million to the Shook Hardy & Bacon law firm of Kansas City, Mo.

The TVA statement said about $600,000 of the total is related to the firm’s work on a September trial in Knoxville federal court over TVA’s possible liability for the Dec. 22, 2008, spill. The statement said TVA’s in-house counsel handled most of the trial work. Spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said TVA couldn’t provide a total of in-house legal costs.

TVA’s legal spending related to the spill is continuing. The judge who presided at the trial, U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan, has given attorneys until Jan. 12 to file related briefs. His ruling on TVA’s liability is likely sometime later in 2012.

If the judge rules that TVA is liable, damage amounts would be decided later. There could also be more trials.

The spill cost is on top of TVA’s $1.2 billion spill cleanup that is costing each ratepayer an average of 69 cents a month until 2024.

Also, the Knoxville-based utility has pledged $43 million to support economic development initiatives in Roane County.

Plaintiff attorney Gary Davis described the legal payout by TVA as “outrageous.”

“A lot of people could have been compensated for their damages,” Davis said. “The ratepayers should revolt about that.”

At trial, TVA argued that the spill wasn’t caused by negligence but a deep foundation failure unrelated to its employee training, maintenance and construction practices.

Plaintiff attorney Jeff Friedman told the judge that TVA neglected warnings about possible problems with the dike for years.

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