The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Suit filed to overturn faster plant cleanup plan
Former advisory panelists and neighbors of the plant say the neighbors’ property and other interests are hurt by the agreement.

By Joe Walker

Four people — two of whom quit a citizens' advisory board out of frustration — have filed suit in Frankfort asking a judge to set aside a state-federal agreement for faster cleanup of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Filed Monday in Franklin Circuit Court, the suit seeks to overrule two Oct. 2 orders that the state Natural Resources Cabinet signed with the Department of Energy to resolve hazardous-waste violations at the plant. The agreement, requiring DOE to pay a $1 million fine to resolve state citations of illegal waste storage and disposal, paves the way for another $30 million in federal money to help finish most of the cleanup by 2019.

The suit was filed by Tom FitzGerald, an attorney and director of the Kentucky Resources Council environmental group, on behalf of plant neighbors Ron Lamb and Al and Vivian Puckett, as well as Mark Donham of Brookport, Ill. Lamb and Donham were among seven members of the plant's 18-member citizens' advisory board who resigned in August, claiming the Energy Department was not being honest with the board on cleanup matters.

Puckett, a former plant worker, has been a critic of plant cleanup issues for many years. All the plaintiffs are involved with environmental activist groups.

"We basically thought they (DOE officials) were giving the cleanup away," Lamb said. "The state made a deal behind closed doors and let them off the hook."

Cabinet and Energy Department officials said they hadn’t seen the suit and declined comment. Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said that based on the agreement, the department wants to go ahead and clean up the greatest risks at the plant.

The suit, which says the neighbors' property "and other interests" are hurt by the agreement, seeks to declare the orders unconstitutional. FitzGerald said the agreement requires the cabinet to prove DOE is the source of groundwater contamination, while in the past the department admitted being the source.

Donham, former chairman of the citizens' board, said members repeatedly complained over roughly 18 months about not having a say in the agreement.

"I don't know how much more you can work through the system than to get this board to make four different recommendations to show us a copy of the agreement before it was finalized," he said. "Because of the makeup of the board, getting a consensus recommendation was not easy."

By working through FitzGerald, former members will now have more say in cleanup matters than they did on the board, Donham said, adding that under state law, the plaintiffs had 30 days to challenge the orders. "We either spoke now or forever held our peace."

Among other things, the suit contends the agreement compromises state control by allowing DOE to claim it is unable to pay for regulatory compliance and, through a "consultation process," delay cleanup actions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.