Tuesday is the last day for current and former residents of Muscatine to file a claim in a class action pollution case. Lawyers expect to receive approximately 3,000 requests from potential beneficiaries by the deadline.
An estimated 15,000 people could qualify for part of the $50 million settlement with corn processor GPC. Residents who lived in certain areas near the plant south of town between April 24, 2007 and September 1, 2017 are eligible.
It’s likely not everyone will get their claim in before Tuesday’s deadline. But the residents’ legal team say they’ve tried to reach them, with TV and radio ads, flyers and letters.
Lawyer Scott Entin of Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C is part of the team representing the class.
“Through those efforts we’ve seen an uptick in response. We’ve done what we can, certainly, to get those people who live and…who’ve lived for a long time and still live in Muscatine to participate.”
Some potential beneficiaries only lived in the area for a matter of weeks or months. The amount of damages awarded will be determined based on the intensity of emissions residents experienced and how long they lived in the affected area.
Those who saw the greatest effects could get as much as an estimated $16,000 each. For families of four or five in the hardest hit areas, the payments could be significant.
Judge John Telleen approved the plan at a February hearing, calling the agreement "quite extraordinary" and emphasized the importance of the settlement.
"This is significant recovery, I hate to see people not take advantage of that," he said at the hearing in February.
The actual payments won't be awarded for another few months, following the process of reviewing and verifying submitted claims and offering time to correct clerical errors or omissions.
After calculating the damages owed to qualified claimants and paying out attorney's fees, any leftover money will be put into a fund for community redevelopment, with representatives of GPC and affected residents providing input on potential projects.
Beyond the individual payouts, GPC has already made investments in mitigating the air pollution at its plant, and agreed to spend millions more under the settlement. Entin credits the company for taking steps that will have positive impacts for the community even beyond the affected neighborhoods outlined in the settlement.
"Not only are people being compensated handsomely and significantly, as compared to a lot of class actions that you see, there's a commitment here from the corporation to further put pollution controls on that should make the air better for years to come in Muscatine," he said.