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St. Petersburg neighborhood reaches settlement with Raytheon over pollution

ST. PETERSBURG — A neighborhood's years-long fight with a multibillion-dollar corporation over pollution has come to an end.

Residents in St. Petersburg's Azalea neighborhood reached a settlement with Raytheon Co. on Thursday, capping a battle that began in 2008, when it was revealed that a toxic plume was under the area. As part of the settlement, approved by U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington, homeowners in the affected area are eligible to receive $2,500 each, according to court documents.

"Well, I'm glad that it's finally done, as far as battling it out in court," said homeowner Carol Caleca, 60, one of a handful of residents who sued the company and was in court Thursday. "Am I happy with the settlement amount? Not necessarily. But it is what it is."

The source of the contamination is an old factory at 1501 72nd St. N near Tyrone Square Mall.

The pollution originated from a drum storage area when it belonged to a previous owner, E-Systems. It was discovered in 1991 by workers building the Pinellas Trail. Raytheon then inherited the problem when it bought the facility in 1995.

But hundreds of Azalea homeowners said they didn't find out about the contamination until 2008, when news reports about it surfaced, though officials were aware of the spreading plume years earlier.

"The most difficult thing about it has been the fact that this has been known in the city for many, many years and nothing was done," said Caleca, who has lived in her home since 1977. "I love this neighborhood. Somebody had to do something."

According to court documents, experts determined there was no health risk to homeowners, and that there was no statistical evidence of diminution in property values.

The $2,500 is intended for home improvements, as part of Raytheon's "corporate citizenship," court records state. It was unclear Thursday how many residents will be eligible for the money.

The company is still on the hook for cleaning up the pollution. Last month, the state Department of Environmental Protection approved Raytheon's 2,000 page plan for doing that.

It calls for pumping out contaminated groundwater and treating it with electrodes and chemicals to neutralize the pollutants.

Company officials, who could not be reached for comment Thursday evening, told the St. Petersburg Times in May that 97 percent of the polluted water could be treated within three years. They said they hope to begin work this year.

But Caleca said she fears it could take decades.

Regardless, she said she feels the fight was worth it — even though it didn't end exactly as she'd hoped.

"I'm happy with the settlement in that I did the best I could for my neighbors," she said. "I'm going to be okay with it."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

St. Petersburg neighborhood reaches settlement with Raytheon over pollution 06/16/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 16, 2011 11:45pm]
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