MUSCATINE — After years of legal action over pollution problems in the area of the plant, a proposed agreement has been reached in the Grain Processing Corp class action lawsuit.
“This is the first step in the process of bringing the litigation to an end and moving forward,” said Sarah Siskind, lead attorney for the class.
The settlement still has to be approved by the court. If it is approved, more than $50 million in benefits will be provided to the class where GPC will be required to pay $45 million into a settlement fund and another $6.5 million in pollution controls at the plant, Siskind said.
“For years, GPC has worked diligently and successfully to deliver on its promise of reducing and managing its environmental footprint in Muscatine,” Carol Reynolds, company spokesperson, said in a statement. “Since 1943, Muscatine grew around the plant and GPC made multiple upgrades to the busy and complex industrial plant, both to meet changing regulations and to honor our longstanding approach of doing the right thing.”
For about six years, details about the nature of the plant’s emissions have been argued. Around 14,000 Southend residents are involved in the class, with attorneys arguing negligent plant emissions and odor was a nuisance that led to a loss of enjoyment of property. Class members have all lived within 1.5 miles of the plant on Oregon Street since 2007. GPC attorney Michael Reck requested in a summary judgment issued several months ago. Judge John Telleen dismissed the negligence claim. He argued GPC has the right to release emissions that are non-negligent and likely produce an odor.
Other points argued in the case were trespassing claims, health-related damages and damages caused by public nuisance.
GPC’s statement also cites recent plant upgrades, including installing emission control equipment and processes, eliminating coal burning and using clean natural gas as a fuel source, and replacing 11 dryers with a technologically-advanced $83 million drying system.
The corporation is a major employer in the community with 1,000 Muscatine residents working for the plant. "Being a good corporate citizen for the people of Muscatine has been a goal for GPC since its beginning," the statement read. "GPC is a dependable local employer investing in employees and their families helping generation after generation to thrive."
“GPC cares about Muscatine. Our employees live, work, and raise their families here,” Reynolds said in the statement. “We take our role of being a good neighbor seriously. We are pleased to put this matter behind us and continue our commitment to the long-term economic, civic, and environmental success of Muscatine and its people as well as to our employees. Our employees are what make GPC great and our commitment to them is unwavering.”
A trial was scheduled to begin this past summer in Scott County District Court, but was ordered stayed until Aug. 20. Following the order, a number of documents were filed requesting more time for negotiations.
A motion for an order granting preliminary approval of the settlement, directing issuance of class notice, and setting a fairness hearing will be filed no later than Friday, according to court documents. If granted, a notice will be mailed to all class members with information on who is covered and how and when claims for payment may be filed.
“This is a great result for all class members and the Muscatine community,” James Larew, co-attorney for the class, said in a news release. “It secures both meaningful cash payments to every Class Member and new pollution controls promising lasting impact on the quality of the air.”