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County may join Freedom suit

By Rusty Marks, Staff writer

Members of the Kanawha County Commission may be joining a potential lawsuit against Freedom Industries.

Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy will ask fellow county commissioners Kent Carper and Hoppy Shores to vote on whether to join in on any lawsuit filed against the chemical storage company at a regular county commission meeting next week.

"As guardians of the taxpayers' dollar, I don't think we have any choice," Hardy said Wednesday. "The county has definitely suffered some economic damage from the event."

On Jan. 9, Freedom Industries leaked more than 10,000 gallons of the coal-cleaning chemical Crude MCHM into the Elk River, not far from West Virginia American Water's main water intake. The spill contaminated drinking water for 300,000 people in nine counties, shut down restaurants and cost local governments hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Hardy said just the overtime costs for the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department during the spill and its aftermath come to about $168,000.

On Tuesday, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department's board of directors voted to join the city of Charleston if city officials sue Freedom Industries over losses from the chemical spill. Dr. Rahul Gupta, chief health officer for the health department, said the department would sue to try to recover part of the $200,000 the health department lost because of the spill.

Officials for the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau are also considering joining any potential lawsuit. City officials have not yet taken legal action against the company.

Hardy said county officials will try to recoup their losses from the emergency through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other sources, but he thinks the county should join a lawsuit against the company just to be sure the county is repaid.

"I'm going to propose to the county commission that we join in that suit," Hardy said.

Officials for Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy following the spill.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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