Crestwood to pay damage claims over tainted water

December 9, 2010 6:23:08 PM PST
A settlement has been reached with residents of a southwest suburban community where for two decades they unknowingly consumed water from a tainted well.

Village officials are accused of allowing Crestwood's water supply to be supplemented with water from a well that they knew was tainted with dangerous chemicals.

The EPA had warned village officials years ago that chemicals used in dry cleaning had been found in that well.

Earlier this year, a study found Crestwood has a higher than average cancer rate.

The revelation in April of 2009 about tainted water in Crestwood's drinking water supply led to a number of lawsuits. Some allege that contaminated drinking water caused cancers that led to deaths. Those cases, the illness and wrongful death cases are ongoing.

For more than two decades, Crestwood co-mingled its Lake Michigan drinking water with water from a well even though potentially dangerous amounts of chemicals - some linked to causing cancers - had leached into the well water supply - and top village officials knew it. That brought a class action lawsuit, and a court-approved settlement that will be costly to Crestwood.

Over the next month, the village will pay out 1,033 economic damage claims to residents who were able to verify their water usage in years past.

"I don't think anything large is going to come out of this," said Frank Ciezadlo, Crestwood resident.

But large is a relative term. When the claims were first totaled, they topped a million dollars, and for a village with a $14 million annual budget, that's a big chunk of change.

The settlement, though, will cap the damages at half a million dollars which is what Crestwood will pay residents who filed claims.

"I saw a claim for $20,000, and for residents I've seen claims for $30 to $300 to $500," said Larry Drury, plaintiff attorney.

There's also the matter of attorneys' fees - capped at $400,000 which the village must also pay. All this comes out of the Crestwood Village general fund.

"The responsible thing to do was to take a look at the case, all the costs and expenses including distractions to village workers and resolve the case fairly and quickly," said Caesar Tabet, attorney for Village of Crestwood.

"I'd be suing myself," said Stan Tomczuk.

Tomczuk chose not to file a claim, figuring that the whole tainted well water issue has already accumulated a cost that can't be easily recovered. The prime example - Crestwood residents for years would get a property tax rebate from the village - sometimes up to 60-percent of their tax bill.

The village withdrew that practice last year because of its mounting legal fees.

"Who gets the money but the lawyers, the courts, everybody but the residents. Who foots the bill? The residents," said one Crestwood resident.

The settlement agreed also requires, among other things, that Crestwood residents pay no fees for garbage pickup for the next two years.

By one estimate the cost of the settlement to the village is on the order of $2.5 million. Even half that is a substantial sum to the treasury in a village of 11,000.

To read the stipulation of the settlement visit www.villageofcrestwood.org.


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