PAOLI, Penn. -- A federal court has approved a settlement of the joint federal-state lawsuit over the cleanup of the Paoli Rail Yard Superfund Site, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Justice Department, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission announced.
The ruling, handed down by U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly, approved the consent degree negotiated by the U.S. and Pennsylvania with Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak), and Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail) over the cleanup of the Chester County property.
The consent degree requires SEPTA, Amtrak, and Conrail to pay $500,000 to EPA and $100,000 to PaDEP as compensation for prior short-term cleanup costs at the site, and to perform all remaining long-term cleanup measures. The settlement also obligates the parties to pay $850,000 to federal and state trustees to settle claims for damage to natural resources.
EPA Regional Administrator W. Michael McCabe noted that the settlement caps 20 years of litigation by federal and state authorities over the cleanup of hazardous substances, principally polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), at the 28-acre site.
"We're pleased with an agreement that ends the litigation against these three parties, and allows them and us to concentrate on completing the rail yard cleanup," said McCabe.
"Everyone benefits from this type of settlement," DEP Secretary James M. Seif said. "The responsible parties are able to double their efforts on the remaining cleanup and future environmental stewardship, while the department can invest more time and resources protecting the environment in the field, instead of in a courtroom."
The cleanup plan includes the following work: excavation and onsite treatment and containment of rail yard soils; containment of residential soils and stream sediments; evaluation and maintenance of existing erosion and sedimentation control basins; deed restrictions on future use of the property; continued implementation of groundwater treatment and fuel oil recovery program; demolition of rail yard buildings; and long-term groundwater monitoring.
The settling parties have already expended at least $12 million on cleanup activities under an EPA consent order. EPA has also issued an order to American Premier Underwriters, the successor to the reorganized Penn Central Co., for excavation and removal of PCBs still remaining in the residential and watershed areas of the site. The settlement does not resolve the federal and state claims against American Premier Underwriters.
According to EPA, much of the contamination of the soil in the rail yard and surrounding areas, rail yard structures, stream sediments, and fish resulted from the use of PCB-containing coolants in train transformers beginning in the early 1950s. Groundwater testing also confirmed fuel Ieaks near the repair shop resulting in elevated levels of benzene, toluene, ethlylbenzene, and xyelne.
Rail operations began at Paoli in 1915, with a car shop used to repair steam-powered rail cars. The site was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company from 1939 to 1967 and by the Penn Central Transportation Co. from 1968 to 1976. The site was conveyed on April 1, 1976 to Conrail, which immediately transferred title to the property to Amtrak, its current owner. Conrail operated the yard from 1976 through 1982, and SEPTA has operated the yard since 1983 for its commuter rail operation. PCB usage was phased out at the rail yard from 1983 to 1986.
Under the Superfund law (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act) and the Pennsylvania Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, the parties responsible for creating a hazardous waste site are responsible for cleaning up the site, or reimbursing the government or other parties for cleanup activities.
Pennsylvania initiated litigation over environmental contamination at the Paoli Rail Yard in the late 1470s, and EPA designated the property as a Superfund site in 1990.
The court's opinion rejected a challenge to the consent decree from American Premier Underwriters. Judge Kelly found that the United States acted properly in rejecting American Premier's offer to pay only 20 percent of the total past and future cleanup costs at the site. The court sided with the government's position that this amount was not adequate in light of likely PCB contamination during Penn Central's operations at the rail yard. The court also rejected American Premier's procedural challenges to the settlement, finding that the U.S. negotiated a settlement with the other parties "only after the impossibility of a global settlement became apparent."
Judge Kelly ruled the proposed consent decree was "fair, reasonable, and consistent with the goals" of the Superfund law. The court noted that American Premier perform an estimated $6.9 million in cleanup work under an EPA order, and may be required to reimburse the agency for up to $11 million in past response and natural resource damages costs.
The opinion concluded by quoting one of the attorneys for the settling defendants: "Literally hundreds of thousands of wards of advocacy have been submitted to this Court in this case over the years. Let the final words of the United States be these: The settlement is fair."
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