Sewer set­tle­ment still un­set­tled

Re­solv­ing class-ac­tion suit over 600 miss­ing ease­ments needs tweaks

The Times-Tribune - - LOCAL - BY JIM LOCK­WOOD STAFF WRITER Con­tact the writer: jlock­wood@timessham­rock.com; 570-348-9100 x5185; @jlock­woodtt on Twit­ter

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.

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