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By JENNIFER RAYMOND
With a team of lawyers, doctors and researchers by her side, well-known activist Erin Brockovich spoke to an audience of about 200 in Roane State Community College’s gymnasium on Friday night about the catastrophic fly ash spill at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant on Dec. 22.
Brockovich said she came to Roane County after receiving hundreds of e-mails from people asking her to visit.
“I’m here on behalf of a community concerned with a tragedy,” she told the crowd.
Her and her team toured the site and flew over it to take in the entire view. She described the site as “ground zero.”
During the meeting, Brockovich presented a video made by a resident in the community of her lakeside home before and after the disaster.
The audience sat in silence as the movie played, several wiping tears from their eyes.
“We were really moved by it,” Brockovich said.
Her goal for the visit was to answer questions that people affected by the disaster might have.
“I feel they’ve gotten some of their questions answered and now they have a place to go,” Brockovich said after the meeting.
She said she hopes people can take action, whatever that may be, to protect themselves now from having an “Oh, crap!” moment down the line.
“I don’t want you or your family to have that moment,” Brockovich said.
Many questions residents had pertained to what kind of options they had after the impact of the spill.
One resident said he had been trying to sell his house before the spill. The home used to have nice lakefront views. Now that view is one overlooking muck.
“I don’t know what I am going to do with a house that’s worth zilch,” the resident said.
Lawyer Robin Greenwald, with Weitz and Luxenberg, said people who experienced property damage could file a lawsuit.
Other types of lawsuits that could be filed are for the loss of use and enjoyment of one’s home, emotional distress and medical or physical injuries, which can be acute or latency injuries.
“The law recognizes that people should be compensated when things like this occur,” Greenwald said.
She added that people who intend to file a lawsuit can do so individually or in a class-action suit, in which several people are grouped together.
The intent of the lawsuit is to protect the affect person’s rights, Brockovich said.
She assured people that law firms do have the person’s best interest at heart, despite intentions of making a profit.
“They have the best interest of the people,” Brockovich said.
In regard to the question that if lawsuits are filed, costs to cover those suits will be passed on to the ratepayers, Brockovich said, either way, rates will increase.
“Something else could happen that will cause them to raise their rates,” Brockovich said. “TVA won’t go broke.”
Lawyers with Brockovich did not discourage people from talking with TVA and seeking compensation from them.
“See if it is full compensation from what you’ve suffered,” Greenwald said.
People were also concerned with who they should trust. Many echoed that they can’t seem to get answers out of TVA
A reason Brockovich said people asked her to come to Roane County was a fear of being duped.
One audience member encouraged people to contact their congressman if they don’t know where to go next.
“We met with them, and they listened,” the resident said.
Greenwald told people to record every time that they call TVA and present it to the congressman.
“Documentation is really powerful,” Greenwald said.
Brockovich added, “Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out.”
She said that a major problem when dealing with disasters is deceit.
“It will find its ways in to everybody’s life,” Brockovich said. “It recognizes no boundary.”
There is a need for better regulation and more oversight when it comes to TVA, she added. When these things are put in place, it is harder for the deceit to occur.
“The fox cannot guard the hen house,” Brockovich said.
The team has taken water samples and have sent them to the lab.
According to Nicholas Cheremisinoff, chemical engineer, those results should be back within five days.
Brockovich and the rest of the team left on Saturday, but she said she will return to the area.
She said she hoped people got what they came for and left with some questions answered and learned of their options.
“They heard from other citizens, which was great,” Brockovich said.