Pennsylvania Lye Spill Costly for Norfolk Southern
HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, November 15, 2007 (ENS) - Waterways and wetlands in two Pennsylvania counties that were damaged in a June 2006 lye spill will benefit from a multi-million dollar civil settlement between the state of Pennsylvania, Norfolk Southern Corp. and Norfolk Southern Railway Company reached today.

The affected area is in the center of Pennsylvania Wilds, a portion of north central Pennsylvania known for its spectacular scenery and wildlife.

"We negotiated long and hard to reach this point, keeping in mind the environmental and economic injuries that this region suffered as a result of the spill," DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty said today. "This settlement will help heal the ecosystem and provide the needed resources for nearby communities."

The $7.35 million civil liability settlement is separate from the criminal charges filed against Norfolk Southern and the derailed trainís conductor by the McKean County district attorney and the Pennsylvania attorney general.

Some 42,000 gallons of lye, also called liquid sodium hydroxide or caustic soda, spilled June 30 when 28 railroad cars derailed near Gardeau village, in Norwich Township, McKean County.

This Norfolk Southern train derailment spilled 42,000 gallons of lye into the environment. (Photo courtesy Pennsylvania Attorney General)

The spill caused millions of dollars in damage and killed thousands of fish. The caustic material spill wiped out fish and aquatic life in Big Fill Hollow and an 11 mile segment of Sinnemahoning-Portage Creek, which is designated as an exceptional value and wild trout stream.

It also affected the fisheries in the Driftwood Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek.

The effects of the spill were observed as far as 30 miles downstream from the derailment site, with much of the impact in Cameron County.

Staff from the Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, northwest regional office conducted fish surveys on the Sinnemahoning-Portage Creek in early October and found that, except for trout, fish populations have rebounded below the spill site.

A large part of the $7.35 million settlement, about $6.76 million, will go to community organizations or be used by Pennsylvania to support environmental restoration work and fund community improvement projects.

DEPís nearly $3.2 million share will go directly to the Headwaters Resource Conservation and Development Council Inc. to support projects in the Sinnemahoning Portage Creek Watershed, and the Driftwood Branch of the Sinnemahoning Creek Watershed.

Norfolk Southern will pay an additional $500,000 to DEP to cover the costs of responding to the derailment. The agreement also provides $3.68 million to the Fish and Boat Commission.

The payments will resolve Norfolk Southernís civil liability at the site for DEP, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Each state agency is a signatory to the settlement.

Norfolk Southern has completed cleanup at the site but it is obligated to continue monitoring the restoration efforts under the terms of a May 2007 agreement. The railroad company is to submit reports to DEP twice a year for the first two years after construction and annually for the next three years.

The first report is due within 60 days of an April 2008 site inspection, with the final report due within 60 days of a September 2013 inspection.

Environmental crimes charges have been filed against Norfolk Southern Corporation and a former engineer who was at the helm of the train, Michael J. Seifert, 46, of West Seneca, New York.

According to the grand jury that indicted the railroad and the engineer, on June 30, 2006, Seifert was operating a Norfolk Southern train down Keating Summit at a top speed of 76 miles per hour when the cars derailed. The speed limit on that stretch of tracks is 15 miles per hour.

The grand jury found that Seifert appeared incoherent at times and fell asleep prior to the derailment. Several hours after the accident, morphine and benzodiazepines were detected in Seifert's bloodstream.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said that Seifert had been disciplined by Norfolk Southern in the past for similar conduct.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.