Sewer settlement still unsettled
Resolving class-action suit over 600 missing easements needs tweaks
A proposed $7 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit against the Scranton Sewer Authority involving 600 missing sewer-line easements in Scranton and Dunmore needs some corrections, according to court documents and the SSA.
Changing classifications of some properties and compensation for their easements pushed off a hearing to finalize the settlement to Nov. 19 in Lackawanna County Court.
That means the skeleton authority may enter a fourth year of existence after the agency sold the sewer system serving Scranton and Dunmore to Pennsylvania American Water on Dec. 29, 2016.
Authority solicitor Jason Shrive discussed the pending settlement during an SSA meeting Thursday at Nay Aug Park in Scranton.
Lackawanna County Court Senior Judge Robert Mazzoni has scheduled a “final fairness hearing” for Nov. 19 to consider property owner objections to compensation amounts or requests to “opt out” of the settlement, and complete the terms of the pact.
Mazzoni then would render a decision in a final order, which also would trigger a 30-day window for appeals to state Commonwealth Court.
“We’re really not sure when an order would come down,” Shrive said.
“So this could actually take us into January 2021?” Dunmore resident Gary Duncan asked.
Shrive replied, “Could be. I wouldn’t want to speculate” on the timing.
The class-action lawsuit, filed Nov. 4, 2016, also will enter its fourth year before the case concludes.
Securing the missing easements is necessary to give the water company quick access for emergency repairs to sewer lines.
Several months before the $195 million sale of the sewer system to the water company closed Dec. 29, 2016, the SSA discovered that over 600 easements inexplicably had never been acquired decades earlier.
The SSA offered those affected a choice of $100 per easement or condemnation. Homeowners who never knew sewer lines ran under their properties or, in some cases, directly under their homes, saw $100 as a pittance for now-devalued properties. Some homeowners jointly filed the class-action lawsuit.
A proposed settlement grouped 603 properties into three subclasses based on impacts from sewer lines: least, moderate and most affected.
Those most affected would receive more money than the others. Each owner would receive at least $500 per easement, but many would get considerably more, depending on location of a sewer line and impact on a property.
Earlier this year, all property owners were notified of their proposed classifications and compensations. All were automatically included in the class unless they filed a formal petition by June 1 to opt out, choosing instead to negotiate easements on their own. Thirty-six owners sought to opt out, while 567, or 94%, stayed in the class.
A final hearing set for Aug. 26 was postponed as further review of properties resulted in “a limited number” of some classifications needing to be changed. These owners are being notified of their group changes and new compensation amounts, and also will be able to object or opt out. The review also identified some owners who actually don’t have sewer lines under their properties or had easements all along, and who will be removed from the suit.