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$10-Million McColl Settlement Offered : Litigation: Defendants would pay the amount to 200 families who claim the toxic waste dump has caused health and property damages.

May 17, 1990|TOM McQUEENEY and ERIC LICHTBLAU | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

FULLERTON — A group of developers, oil companies, city insurers and others have agreed to pay almost $10 million to about 200 families to settle claims that the McColl toxic waste dump has harmed their health and property values, court documents show.

In the latest round of settlements over the World War II-era dumping of aviation fuel refinery wastes at the site, Superior Court Judge Tully H. Seymour on Tuesday approved one $2.25-million offer from developers and is expected to rule soon on remaining offers. Two weeks ago, he approved a $700,000 settlement by the city's former insurers.

The total settlements are expected to amount to about $52,000 per household for families who filed the second batch of lawsuits in late 1986 and early 1987, according to one document. A first round of lawsuits, settled in 1986, paid about $42,000 to each family filing suit, according to the document.

The $10-million settlement figure was listed in the proposed agreement filed by Union and Shell oil companies. The two companies have agreed to pay the homeowners $950,000 to drop the suits against them, and their court papers state that this amount is almost 10% of the total $10-million offer. Seymour is scheduled to consider the Union and Shell settlements June 15.

Other defendants--oil companies, the city's insurers, developers, engineering firms and an adjacent country club--have filed proposed settlements that total about $1.08 million. Court documents show that agreements have been reached in the remaining cases, but the specifics have not yet been filed with the court.

Attorneys for the homeowners and defendants contacted refused to talk about the proposed settlements or could not be reached.

Milo Burdick, a 58-year-old Fullerton resident whose home borders the dump site and who is one of the second-round plaintiffs in what has become known in legal circles as "McColl II," said lawyers in the complex case have not given him specific financial terms of the settlement.

"I've been told that they've basically reached an agreement and we'll be told about it in the near future," he said.

Still, after years of litigation, the prospect of an end to the legal maneuvering was not an altogether satisfying one for Burdick.

"Does this make everything better? No," Burdick said. The dump "is still out there, and we still live here, so I won't be satisfied until they do something about it and clean it up. What's the money going to do?"

Oil companies and other parties alleged to be responsible for the World War II-era dumping refinery sludge at the McColl site have been debating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over how to clean up the site. The EPA favors burning the waste, while oil companies have been pushing to seal the wastes underground and leave it. A final decision is not expected until next March.

Seymour left on vacation Tuesday and could not be reached for comment on the proposed settlements, which were hammered out after several all-day settlement hearings last year.

Tuesday's approved settlement was offered by the Fullerton Hills Development Co., William Lyon Co. and the Chevron Land & Development Co., which built homes around the McColl dump in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The settlement calls for all homeowners to drop their suits against the company and not encourage other homeowners around McColl to file similar suits.

Suits filed by residents claim that noxious fumes enter their homes from McColl and that nearby soil and ground water is contaminated, possibly leading to health problems.

Seymour is expected to approve the remaining settlement offers from other developers, oil companies and others when he returns from vacation.

In addition to the Union-Shell proposed agreement, the other proposals awaiting Seymour's signature are a combined $500,000 offer from seven other oil companies; $402,625 from the current and past two owners of the Los Coyotes Country Club, where toxic wastes also were dumped; $700,000 from the city of Fullerton's insurance carriers, and $105,000 from Chevron Corp. and Chevron USA Inc.

As part of the settlements, none of the defendants acknowledge any blame for putting the toxic sludge in the dump or for failing to clean it up before homes were built.

The city of Fullerton has opposed settling the lawsuits and objects to the insurance companies' paying $700,000 on its behalf, said Richard Montevideo, one of the city's attorneys for the McColl suits.

"The insurance companies settled over the objections and without the consent of the city," Montevideo said Tuesday.

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