CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On the eve of a much-anticipated trial, more than 350 Boone County residents have reached a tentative deal with Alpha Natural Resources to resolve their lawsuit claiming coal-slurry pollution contaminated their drinking water.
Lawyers for Alpha and the residents came to terms in a last-ditch settlement conference that Boone Circuit Judge William Thompson had ordered just an hour before jury selection was to begin Tuesday morning in Madison.
Opening arguments were scheduled to start next week, and Thompson also had ordered the lawyers to conduct another mediation session over the weekend. The parties had not been able reach a settlement during a previous mediation.
Roger Decanio, a lawyer for the residents, confirmed that a tentative deal had been reached, as did Alpha media spokesman Ted Pile and a court spokesman.
All sides said terms of the agreement were meant to be confidential, so details were not made public.
The settlement is the second major coal-slurry pollution deal Alpha has made with Southern West Virginia residents involving lawsuits it inherited when it bought Massey Energy Co. in June 2011. A previous agreement resolved claims brought by the residents of the Rawl area of Mingo County.
Slurry is the wastewater created at preparation plants by the cleaning of raw coal before shipping the fuel to the market. For decades, coal operators dumped the material in large above-ground impoundments or injected it underground, often into old mine voids.