MEADVILLE – The Department of Environmental Protection has issued a permit authorizing Norfolk Southern to excavate contaminated soil that continues to leach sodium hydroxide into Big Fill Hollow, near the village of Gardeau in Norwich Township, McKean County, as the result of a 31-car train derailment June 30.
“This work is designed to get to the root of ongoing contamination of the stream,” DEP Northwest Regional Director Kelly Burch said. “Removing the contaminated soil will help to stop sodium hydroxide from seeping into the stream. This cleanup step also is necessary to ensure the full restoration of the effected waterways and wetlands.”
The permit allows Norfolk Southern to temporarily divert 60 feet of the Big Fill Hollow watercourse, excavate and restore 2,500 square feet of the Big Fill floodway, build a temporary clean water ditch through the floodway, and construct groundwater collection devices within the floodway watercourse that are to be removed once the project is completed.
The authorized work will be restricted to the actual derailment and spill location on the east side of the Norfolk Southern tracks. Additional work, not requiring a permit, will result in the removal of approximately 1,500 cubic yards of contaminated soils. All excavated material must be disposed of at a permitted landfill.
The permit does not authorize wetland disturbance. All disturbed areas must be restored to the original contours and replanted with native, indigenous plant species.
DEP and Norfolk Southern continue to work on stream and wetland encroachment permitting issues on the west side of the Norfolk Southern tracks.
The June 30 spill wiped out fish and aquatic life in Big Fill Run at the accident site and along with nearly an 11-mile segment of Sinnemahoning-Portage Creek. It also affected fishery resources in the Driftwood Branch of Sinnemahoning Creek. The effects of the spill were observed as much as 30 miles downstream from the derailment site, with much of the impact in Cameron County.
An unknown amount of the 42,000 gallons of sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda or lye, soaked into the ground in and around the derailment site. This residual material must be addressed and cleaned up to ensure a complete recovery of Sinnemahoning-Portage Creek, which is designated as an exceptional value and wild trout stream.
On Oct. 19, DEP announced $8.89 million in penalties against Norfolk Southern for violations of the state’s Clean Streams Law related to unpermitted discharges and the state’s Solid Waste Management Act and Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act related to the unpermitted disposal of wastes and the release of hazardous substances because of the accident.
On Sept. 22, DEP Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty visited Emporium, Cameron County, and issued an order to Norfolk Southern, setting legally-binding milestones and objectives to ensure the company cleans up the ground contamination and fully restores the area to pre-spill conditions. The area is the center of Pennsylvania Wilds, encompassing the north central portion of the state renowned for its spectacular scenery and wildlife.
McGinty also announced an enhanced stakeholder process to involve area residents and businesses in designing regional restoration projects to be funded by civil penalties levied against the company as the result of the spill. A single point of contact also has been established at DEP to keep residents up to date on cleanup activities.
The department also has established a Web site that includes a brief summary and answers to frequently asked questions about the derailment and its aftermath. There is a link to DEP news releases, so when new information becomes available residents have immediate access.