SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Danversport Explosion

November 20, 2007

Danversport Trust wants to stay out of court

DANVERS — Last November's chemical plant explosion has yet to generate the avalanche of lawsuits that many expected.

Seven have been filed so far, including four by insurance companies seeking to recoup payments they made to property owners.

There would be a thicker tangle of litigation if the majority of residents affected by the blast hadn't opted for an alternative response. More than 150 home and business owners have pooled their claims against those potentially responsible for the explosion under a single umbrella -- the Danversport Trust.

The goal of the trust is to avoid a lawsuit. It will instead pursue a settlement with the responsible parties through voluntary mediation.

The man behind the novel approach is lawyer Jan Schlichtmann, a Beverly resident made famous by the book and movie version of "A Civil Action." He has represented neighbors in other environmental cases and successfully used a court-supervised trust.

The creation of the Danversport Trust was approved in Salem Superior Court on June 8. The trust wants to complete its own investigation of the blast before negotiating a settlement.

"It's a continuing process, trying to figure out what happened and what should be done about it. We're in the midst of that," Schlichtmann said.

The trust has excavated part of the chemical plant site on Water Street and a portion of Bates Street to determine if there was a pathway for natural gas to the plant. Neighbors, citing a history of gas leaks in Danversport and reports that people smelled gas the day before the explosion, have speculated that gas played a role.

It's a theory that federal and state investigators have dismissed. Both found that the accidental overheating of a chemical mixing tank used by CAI likely caused the explosion. The overheated tank generated flammable vapors that filled the plant and found an ignition source.

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