Norfolk Southern to appeal big penalty

DEP hits railroad with $8.89 million fine for
killer spill

By Joe Mandak Associated Press Writer

Pittsburgh — Calling the fine unwarranted, a Norfolk South-ern
spokesman announced late last month the railroad would appeal a
large fine leveled by the state for a caustic spill caused by a
derailment that decimated a wild trout stream.

“The fines are unwarranted and not supported by facts or law,”
said Rudy Husband. “We definitely will appeal the fines.”

State environmental regulators want Norfolk Southern Railroad to
pay $8.89 million in fines for a derailment that fouled a
once-pristine fishing creek in the northern tier with lye.

The Department of Environmental Protection recently filed a
complaint seeking $5.41 million for alleged violations of the
state’s Clean Streams Law. That would cover damage to
Sinnemahoning-Portage Creek and related waterways affected by the
June derailment near the village of Gardeau in northcentral
Pennsylvania.

The DEP also assessed a $3.48 million civil penalty for
unpermitted disposal of wastes and the release of hazardous
substances at the site.

Union officials have said the train was going 73 mph down a
steep hill when it derailed at a point where the track’s speed
limit is 15 mph.

Norfolk Southern cited the engineer and conductor for improper
train handling and speeding, and have vowed to help clean up the
pollution.

Husband noted the railroad has worked with the DEP to clean up
the site and to take samples to ensure residential water supplies
are safe. Until the mid-October filings, Norfolk Southern had been
commended by the DEP for its efforts, Husband said.

“We’re going to continue to do all we can to cooperate with DEP
and we’re disappointed that DEP has chosen a course that is going
to create an adversarial relationship between the railway and the
agency,” Husband said.

State officials said the damage caused by the 42,000-gallon
spill warranted stiff penalties.

The lye, which spilled from three tank cars, killed fish and
other life in the Big Fill Run, where the train derailed, and a
7.5-mile segment of Sinnemahon-ing-Portage Creek. It also tainted
the Driftwood Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek.

“The waterways, wetlands and soil all paid a price when that
speeding train derailed and the tank cars split open,” DEP
Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty said.

The complaint, which was filed with the state Environmental
Hearing Board, seeks additional daily penalties of $46,420 for any
continuing discharges.

“The discharges that devastated and continue to affect this
environmentally pristine area violate a number of state laws and
regulations,” McGinty said. “These enforcement actions and fines
against Norfolk Southern seek to remedy the breach of laws that has
created environmental and economic havoc in McKean and Cameron
counties.”

The railroad announced it also planned to file an appeal of the
DEP’s decision last month ordering Norfolk Southern to “fully
restore” the creek following the derailment. The area was popular
with anglers and designated by the state as one of the best
waterways for naturally reproducing trout.

The railroad has said it believed the creek could support
restocking by next spring. The state Fish & Boat Commission
would have to approve such a plan.

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