CHARLESTON – Emogene Helmick received $50,000, not by playing the lottery but by forcing Columbia Gas Transmission to fix a mess its pipeline caused.
Her federal suit over contamination of her property produced not only a cash payment from Columbia but also a promise to plug a leak and grade an old logging road.
In an April 1 settlement, Columbia also agreed to pay 111 other landowners about $6 a yard for damage along 28 miles of pipeline.
Helmick's lawyer, Harry Bell of Bell & Bands in Charleston, and Columbia's lawyer, Amy Smith of Steptoe & Johnson in Charleston, moved to approve the settlement.
Chief Judge Joseph Goodwin presides over the case. He hasn't set a hearing.
Helmick sued Columbia in Roane Circuit Court in 2007, proposing a class action.
She alleged loss of property value, trespass, and public and private nuisance.
Columbia removed the case to federal court.
Magistrate Judge Mary Stanley led two mediation sessions last year, with a telephone conference in between.
The second mediation ended with oral agreement. Stanley reviewed the terms with Helmick and family members, who apparently accepted them.
Two weeks later Columbia put the terms in writing, and Helmick rejected them.
Columbia tried again, obtaining Bell's approval but failing to sway Helmick.
On March 5 Bell's associate, Larry Boyd of Houston, Texas, wrote to Stanley that, "Mr. Bell understands she is unwilling at the present time to resolve this case."
Before Stanley on April 1, Helmick and her four adult children signed an agreement.
Bell and Smith submitted it as a joint motion on May 4.
It calls for Columbia to pay Helmick $50,000 and "repair the leak in the T-loop."
It calls for Columbia to grade part of an old logging road, to "bypass the point on the ridge," and install drain pipes for safe access to the loop.
It calls for Columbia to deposit $450,000 in a fund that will send checks to 111 owners of 138 parcels.
As class counsel, the firm of Bell & Bands and Boyd would receive up to 33 percent.
That would leave about $300,000 for property owners, who would divide the fund at about $6 per yard.
Columbia also would pay Bell & Bands up to $35,000 as class administrator.