CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The state of Wyoming has tabbed former Gov. Mike Sullivan to mediate compensation claims for residents of Rock Springs’ “Tree Street” neighborhood, who say a controversial 2007 state-run mine subsidence project wrecked their homes.
Four of five homeowners involved in mediation talks have settled for an undisclosed amount, said Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips, and negotiations are being planned for another six or seven homeowners.
The mediation program started in December, Phillips said, about four and a half years after the Wyoming Abandoned Mine Land Division began pounding a 61-acre tract near downtown Rock Springs with 25- and 35-ton weights to collapse underground mine voids so that affordable housing could safely be built on the land.
After several weeks of “dynamic compaction,” the project ended up damaging nearly 20 homes in the area, the owners claim. Walls and driveways cracked, sinkholes opened underneath their property and natural gas from broken underground pipes started seeping into homes.
The state offered each family several thousand dollars in compensation, but several homeowners said those offers were far too low and filed suit against the state in 2010. They’ve been seeking about $6 million for repairs and to recompense homeowners for houses they say are unrecoverable and can’t be sold.
Phillips said he couldn’t say which homeowners have accepted state compensation nor provide any details about the terms of the deals because of a non-disclosure clause in the agreement.
Asked if he believed that the mediation plan would bring an end to the years-long dispute, Phillips answered, “So far so good.”
Phillips said having Sullivan serve as mediator has been a big help.
“First, he’s a super good lawyer,” Phillips said. “And, second of all, the claimants obviously are going to have a certain amount of trust in him just from his years of integrity.”
Becky Kelley, a Tree Street resident who has coordinated the neighborhood lobbying effort for compensation, said she hasn’t yet been contacted about a mediation session.
Kelley has demanded the state pay her $312,000, the market value of her home in 2007.
But she said that at this point, she would be willing to accept a settlement offer of less than that so long as it’s fair.
“If we can get mediation, it’ll be a real good thing,” Kelley said. “Five years is too long.”
But Kelley’s neighbor, Donna Maynard, who also hasn’t yet scheduled a mediation time, said she won’t accept any settlement offer that won’t allow her to pay off the last seven years of her mortgage and put a down payment on a new house.
“If it’s not good enough, I’m not taking it,” Maynard said. “Because I know how the state works — they’ve just given us piddly amounts before.”