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Pa. residents win fight over eviction

All they ever wanted was to be left alone, free to live out their lives in the central Pennsylvania coal town whose population had fled an underground mine fire. And after 20 years, residents of Centralia have finally gotten their wish.

A lengthy battle over eminent domain culminated this week when eight residents settled their lawsuit against state officials who had been trying to evict them from their condemned homes — the only homes left standing after most of Centralia was razed in the 1980s because of a coal-mine fire that still burns.

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The settlement, notice of which was filed in US District Court, allows the residents to stay in their homes for as long as they live. It also includes a cash payout of $349,500.

‘‘Everybody got what we wanted and everybody’s happy now,’’ resident Tom Hynoski, 52, said Thursday.

The mine fire was ignited in 1962 and eventually spread to the vast network of mines beneath homes and businesses, threatening residents with poisonous gases and dangerous sinkholes. By the end of the 1980s, more than 1,000 people had moved and 500 structures demolished under a $42 million federal relocation program.

But some people refused to go, even after their houses were seized through eminent domain in the early 1990s.

The agreement includes $218,000 to compensate residents for the value of their homes, and $131,500 to settle additional claims raised in the lawsuit, according to Steve Kratz, spokesman for the state Department of Community and Economic Development, a defendant in the suit.

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