Two operators of the Rocky Flats Plant have agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by nearby homeowners in 1990 after the Justice Department raid of the plant. The announced settlement is $375 million. The homeowners had accused Rockwell International (now owned by Boeing) and Dow Chemical of devaluing their property with plutonium releases. The settlement, if it is approved by a federal judge, would involve as many as 15,000 homeowners in an area involving neighborhoods surrounding Standley Lake. The people who owned property in that area must have owned the home on June 7, 1989, which was the first day of the Justice Department raid. Anyone who sold their property before that date or bought property after that date will be excluded. Approval of the settlement and establishing a claims process could be “months away.”
There are several aspects of the settlement that make no sense to me. A jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2006 after at least one juror who had been against that ruling was thrown off the case after complaining to the judge about harassment from those who favored the ruling. The primary “evidence” that had been presented was that (and I give attribution to someone else who offered this) was that “…the FBI had raided the plant, thus something bad HAD to have been going on…and lots of people had negative things to say about the plant…” The judge awarded $926 million, but the award was thrown out by the appeals court based on improper instructions from the judge. The rejection was based on the fact that an irrational fear was not adequate proof of harm. The Supreme Court refused to take the case. Thus we have the mystery of why Dow and Rockwell agreed to a settlement when it had been legally determined the plaintiffs weren’t damaged unless the plaintiffs went back to trial and proved damage they couldn’t prove in the first trial.
One part of the answer to why the two companies settled is that the Department of Energy is expected to pay the bill because federal contract law indemnifies the companies. DOE agreed to the settlement, so taxpayers will ultimately pay something to about 15,000 homeowners after the attorneys subtract their nice multimillion dollar fee from the total award. There’s at least one more mystery. Most actual environmental damage occurred while Dow was managing the plant and Rockwell has agreed to pay most of the settlement.
See my book “An Insider’s View of Rocky Flats, Urban Myths Debunked” if you want to learn more about releases from the plant and the raid. The Kindle version costs $3.99, and it has some great pictures including two different kinds of multi-kilogram plutonium ingots. You might want to entertain yourself by reading 25 reviews of the book on Amazon. The reviews can serve as a primer for the controversies surrounding the Rocky Flats Plant. One review gives the book a “Poorly written” one star. Another gives it a “Good Read” and five stars. (The average of the 25 is 4 stars.)
After that bit of self promotion, perhaps the judge will refuse to approve the settlement, which I believe would be the reasonable thing to do. However, I’ve learned there is seldom anything that is based on reason when it involves the Rocky Flats Plant. I observe in my book that the real cause of fear from landowners around Rocky Flats was the raid, which found nothing that hadn’t already been known and didn’t identify anything that should concern the neighbors of the plant. I would agree if the settlement had been made against the Justice Department officials who raided the plant based on bad information and then didn’t have the courage to admit they had been duped.