By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
This is one story that makes me angry and brings tears to my eyes at the same time.
Carousel Homeowners Association (HOA) was constructed on a land tract that once contained concrete lined crude oil storage tanks owned by Shell Oil. In the 1960s the tract was sold to developer Barclay Hollander, and later acquired by Dole Food Co.
At the time the land was developed as a planned community of 285 cluster homes, contaminated soil was supposed to be removed and replaced with clean fill. But developer Baarclay Hollander cut corners by removing only the top layer of soil and covering over it with topsoil and concrete.
Years later, homeowners began to notice sludge bubbling up in their lawns. Residents of Carousel HOA began to suffer from unusually high rates of cancer, asthma, and blood diseases.
In 2008, soil, groundwater, and vapor tests revealed petroleum contamination extending as low as 50 feet below ground at Carousel HOA. Contaminants include high levels of carcinogens such as benzene, and the presence of methane gas.
A long, complicated lawsuit involving nearly 1,500 past and present residents of Carousel ensued, and now, after 8 years, a $120 million settlement has been reached with the HOA.
But it’s not all rosy for homeowners and residents.
For one thing, attorneys from Girardi & Keese will keep 40% of the settlement – $48 million. The remaining $72 million will be divided by 1,491 plaintiffs, on average roughly $48,000 apiece.
Some households will receive more financial relief, and some will get less, depending on actual damages. That alone will be a recipe for conflict in Carousel, where the HOA Board President has publicly expressed resentment toward sharing financial settlement with people who have not suffered as much as she and some of her very ill neighbors.
Carson’s contaminated Carousel tract wins $120 million settlement
Barbara Post, president of the Carousel Homeowners Association, told Carson council members Tuesday that she’s skeptical attorneys will maximize the compensation for residents who have suffered the most.
“There is a distinct distrust of our (Girardi & Keese) attorneys by the Carousel residents,” Post said. “We’re sharing this (settlement) with people across the street who have no contamination from Shell Oil, yet we’re told we have to give them something.
So we’re sharing this with people who have not gone through what we’ve gone through, will not be going through what we’ve gone through. They do not have the same type of illnesses and deaths. They didn’t have it oozing up in their yards like we have.”
For households with exorbitant health care costs as a result of years of fighting cancer – or those who have lost loved ones – money is poor consolation. How do the courts put a price on that kind of suffering?
And of course, Carousel homes are essentially worthless. Prior to discovery of contamination, these were half-million dollar properties. But today, who would want to buy one?
Does anyone honestly believe that Carousel’s negative stigma will disappear following the massive cleanup?
According to the following reports, it will take at least six years to dig up oil-soaked soil and replace it with clean soil. And in the process, mature landscapes must be ripped out from the roots.
Because some oil-contaminated soil will be remain, a ventilation system must also be installed to allow noxious and explosive gases to escape from underground.
Residents must endure years of heavy equipment, noise, dust, mud, and foul odors, while construction crews dig down 5 to 10 feet around every house and haul in tons of dirt to back fill.
The City of Carson wanted to work out a buyout deal for current homeowners. Allow these people to get on with their lives. Start all over from scratch on the Carson tract.
And, preferably, don’t build any new housing there.
Why didn’t that happen? Apparently Shell believes its $90 million settlement, plus another $200 million in remediation work is less costly than 285 buyouts, plus damages, pain and suffering for current and former residents. (Dole’s share of the settlement is $30 million)
The settlement coincides with sharp decline in profits for Shell.
Work begins on massive cleanup of contaminated Carousel tract yards in Carson
City officials and Carousel tract residents have pleaded with Shell to buy them out of their houses so they wouldn’t have to suffer through years of construction and health threats, but the company didn’t agree.
A Carousel tract resident who lives nearby in Cluster 17, which will be cleaned in three or four years, echoed what many residents have said this week throughout the process.
It doesn’t make sense,” said the woman, who didn’t give her name because of the lawsuit. “Why would they spend all that money to clean up the soil? The toxins are going to end up airborne anyway. I don’t get why they don’t just buy us out completely.
“I have three sisters that also live in the tract. I just think it’s ridiculous that this is going to take years, and I just can’t get over that they never settled to buy us all out. Are they waiting for us to pass?”