As part of the settlement, the railroad will also implement stormwater controls at its construction sites and pay an $800,000 civil penalty.
The settlement resolves a complaint filed August 6 by the United States against Union Pacific alleging multiple violations of the Clean Water Act stemming from the railroad's activities in Clover Creek and Meadow Valley Wash in 2005.
In January 2005, a series of winter storms undermined the tracks where a Union Pacific train had been standing for about a week. The flooding posed a chemical threat when the train was washed off the tracks.
Six tankers carrying hazardous chemicals and eight carloads of contaminated soil headed for disposal in a Utah landfill triggered investigations by Union Pacific and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. No contamination was found.
The company made time-critical actions to repair damage. But, Union Pacific also conducted extensive non-emergency construction and stream alteration work without obtaining the required Clean Water Act permits, which could have minimized and compensated for the damage to the streams, according to the complaint filed by the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Union Pacific's unauthorized discharges included the construction of massive structures to control stream flows, such as dikes, berms, levees and diversions within the stream systems. The structures ranged from five to 15 feet high, and from 20 feet to thousands of feet long.
As part of the settlement, Union Pacific will restore 21 sections of Clover Creek and Meadow Valley Wash in Clark and Lincoln Counties and will monitor eight major restoration areas for at least five years. Union Pacific will remove illegal fill, restore, monitor, maintain, and re-vegetate the 21 sections at issue and remove invasive species.
Meadow Valley Wash (Photo courtesy Resource Concepts Inc.)
"This settlement will restore Clover Creek and Meadow Valley Wash," said John Cruden, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are pleased that this agreement will result in the restoration of important mountain desert streams and habitat for the state of Nevada."
Clover Creek and Meadow Valley Wash are tributaries of Lake Mead and the Colorado River, by way of the Muddy River. The Muddy River is one of the most biologically rich areas in Nevada, providing habitat for four rare and endemic fish species, seven species of rare invertebrates, numerous rare and declining bird species, as well as Mojave Desert riparian mesquite and wetlands habitat, according the Nature Conservancy.
The Muddy River lies about 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas, and begins a series of thermal springs in the Moapa Valley before reaching Lake Mead.
From January 2005 through the present Union Pacific conducted construction activities adjacent to Clover Creek and Meadow Valley Wash but the railroad company did not submit information to Nevada's Division of Environmental Protection necessary for it to evaluate coverage under an individual or general stormwater permit until October 3, 2005, and did not provide a compete submission, including a certification and fee, until November 2005.
Even after the Nevada General Stormwater Permit was issued on or about November 30, 2005 through February 2007 the company failed to comply with the terms of the permit. Union Pacific failed to prepare an adequate stormwater pollution prevention plan and conduct required inspections; and failed to properly implement and maintain best management practices, according to the complaint.
Each day that fill material discharged without authorization constitutes a separate violation of the Clean Water Act, the complaint states, adding that "unless enjoined, Defendant is likely to continue to discharge pollutants and/or to allow pollutants to remain in Clover Creek and Meadow Valley Wash," in violation of the law.
"Meadow Valley Wash and Clover Creek are valuable, sensitive water resources which provide habitat to many fish species and endangered wildlife, such as the desert tortoise and southwestern willow flycatcher," said Laura Yoshii, acting regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest region.
"Union Pacific's long term restoration will restore Meadow Valley Wash and Clover Creek," said Yoshii. "This significant settlement underscores EPA's commitment to protect valuable water resources in Nevada."
The proposed consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, is subject to a 30-day comment period that began August 12 and final court approval. A copy of the complaint and the proposed consent decree is available on the Justice Department website.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.