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Judge To Consider $50M Settlement In Class Action Pollution Case Tuesday

Anthony Posey via flickr creative commons
A Muscatine district judge will hear arguments Tuesday in whether to approve a $50 million settlement in a years-long class action lawsuit over air pollution.

A judge will consider Tuesday whether to approve a $50 million settlement in a class action case over air pollution in Muscatine.

Under the agreement the Grain Processing Corporation would have to pay $45 million to area residents and their lawyers, and spend $5 million on pollution control projects.

Neighbors of the company's corn milling plant in Muscatine alleged in the years-long case that haze, odors and particles from the GPC plant harmed their quality of life and interfered with their full use of their own property. 

"This was a frequent description, by class members, who’d go outside on certain days and be unable to garden, be unable to just be outside on their deck, that kind of thing,” said Jim Larew, one of the lawyers representing the class membrs in the case. "When this was filed they were using coal-fired burners and people were describing particulate, all of which could interfere with a person's full use and enjoyment of the property, but also impose certain burdens, the plaintiffs allege."

Residents who lived within one and half miles of the Muscatine plant between April 24, 2007 and September 1, 2017 are eligible to benefit from the proposed settlement. Larew estimates the total group of potential beneficiaries could be upwards of 15,000 people. But first a judge has to decide if the agreement is fair.

“It’s not going to be a forum if someone, either in praise or blame of GPC for example…it’s really not a place to hash out those issues," Larew said. "It’s whether or not these…the terms and conditions of the proposed settlement are fair, adequate and reasonable.”

Under the terms of the agreement, GPC would not admit any fault or wrongdoing in the case.

Neither this Settlement Agreement, whether approved or not approved, nor any exhibit, document, or instrument that is developed as part of this Settlement Agreement or in order to implement this Settlement Agreement, nor any statement, transaction, or proceeding in connection with its negotiation, execution, or implementation, is intended to nor may it be construed as or deemed to be evidence of an admission or concession by the Parties of any liability, defense, affirmative defense, fault, or wrongdoing, or of the truth of any allegations or defenses in the Litigation, or the valuation or validity of claims or defenses or affirmative defenses to any claims in any context or proceeding other than this Settlement.

If the settlement is approved, individuals could see payouts of as much as $16,000, though the amounts would depend on how long a resident lived in the area, how close they were to the plant, whether they rented or owned their home, and how many total applicants qualify for the payments. Residents have until March 19, 2019 to submit a claim.

If the judge rejects the settlement, the parties would have the opportunity to negotiate the terms. Otherwise, the case could go to trial.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter