Proceedings could go on for weeks, court officials predict

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Opening statements in the TVA ash spill civil trial are set to start today – Monday – at the federal courthouse in Knoxville.

A number of Roane Countians are suing TVA over the disaster, which occurred at the Kingston Fossil Plant on Dec. 22, 2008.

“Our case is going to be based on TVA’s own documents,” plaintiffs’ attorney Jeff Friedman told U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan.    

Varlan held court last Thursday to go over some pending motions and logistical issues for the trial.

One of the issues dealt with seating availability in the spectator area of the courtroom. 

“There are a lot of people who want to come to this trial,” plaintiffs’ attorney Gary Davis said. “We are going to try to coordinate, so we don’t overflow this courtroom.”

Numerous lawyers are involved in the litigation, which has around 230 plaintiffs.

TVA attorney Edwin Small wanted to know how many lawyers would be allowed to question a witness.

“It is our absolute intent to limit the lawyers,” Friedman said.

“I would anticipate one attorney on the plaintiffs’ side will handle one witness, but I will give some leeway,” Varlan said.

Varlan also expressed some concern about the number of trial exhibits, which could be in the thousands. Friedman said the plaintiffs have been working with TVA attorneys on the issue.

“We will have this thing pared down,” he said. “We’ve been working tirelessly to get that done.”

Small said they plan to raise objections to some of the exhibits. 

“Hearsay would be one,” he said. “The other would be trustworthiness of some exhibits.”

The trial will not have a jury, so Varlan will decide the case. Small offered to take him on a helicopter tour of the ash spill site. Friedman didn’t like that idea, comparing it to viewing a car that was involved in a wreck after it’s been fixed.

The dike failure that occurred at the fossil plant released more than 5 million cubic yards of ash into the environment.

The trial will be divided into two phases. The first phase will involve issues and evidence relating to duty, breach and dike failure.

If Varlan finds in favor of the plaintiffs, the second phase will focus on which tracts of property owned by the plaintiffs suffered damage and what amount of compensation are they entitled to.

The trial could go on for several weeks.

“My plan is to have full trial days the first two weeks, Monday through Thursday, and then see where we are,” Varlan said.

TVA issued a statement about the litigation last Thursday, touting efforts its made to help the county recover from the disaster.

Those efforts included removing ash from the Emory River, providing $43 million in reparations to local communities and purchasing more than 180 properties.

The agency also has plans for a recreation area in Swan Pond.