June 18, 2019 / 11:47 PM / 6 months ago

UPDATE 1-PG&E settles California fire claims with local governments for $1 bln

(Adds background on settlements, comment by PG&E)

By Jim Christie

SAN FRANCISCO, June 18 (Reuters) - PG&E Corp will pay $1 billion as part of its bankruptcy reorganization to more than a dozen local governments in California struck by wildfires in recent years, the company and lawyers for the governments said on Tuesday.

Payments to the local governments will settle claims from lawsuits put on hold by PG&E’s bankruptcy and are separate from the thousands of individual claims stemming from wildfires that the company expects will be filed against it during the bankruptcy period.

PG&E will not be able to make settlement payments until it receives court approval for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan.

San Francisco-headquartered PG&E filed for Chapter 11 protection in January anticipating $30 billion in liabilities from wildfires in 2017 and 2018 blamed on its equipment.

The local governments said in a filing in March that their claims could top more than $2.5 billion for fire-related damage to roads, bridges, sidewalks, road signs and signals, public landscaping and water systems.

The governments include the city of Paradise, which was leveled by November’s Camp Fire in California deadliest and most destructive wildfire of modern times.

Paradise settled for $270 million, John Fiske, a lawyer for the governments from Baron & Budd, told Reuters.

A Paradise park district and Butte and Yuba Counties also settled claims stemming from the Camp Fire, for a combined $312 million.

The city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma and Napa Counties, which were hard hit by blazes in 2017, are among the localities that settled.

Other governments that settled 2017 fire claims include the cities of Sonoma and Napa as well as Lake, Mendocino, Nevada and Yuba Counties and some special districts.

The governments that settled the 2017 fire claims will receive a total of $415 million. How the money will be allocated has not been decided yet, Fiske said.

A water district in Calaveras County settled claims arising from a 2015 fire. It will receive $3 million.

“This is an important first step toward an orderly, fair and expeditious resolution of wildfire claims and a demonstration of our willingness to work collaboratively with stakeholders to achieve mutually acceptable resolutions,” PG&E said in a statement provided to Reuters.

“We hope to continue making progress with other stakeholders,” PG&E added. (Reporting by Jim Christie; editing by Grant McCool and G Crosse)

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