BOSTON (MassDEP) – The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has issued a demand notice, requiring Pan Am Railways (Pan Am) and Boston & Maine Corporation (B&M) to pay $60,000 in penalties for repeated violation of Solid Waste Management regulations at two locations in Northfield and Buckland. The violations are related to the historic abandonment of railroad ties along railroad tracks.
While responding to a complaint filed in 1999, MassDEP observed thousands of ties Pan Am and B&M abandoned along 7.5 miles of track within the Wachusett Reservoir watershed, a public water supply, located in Sterling and West Boylston.
In May 2005, MassDEP responded to another complaint and observed the evidence of two fires located along the railroad tracks in Deerfield. According to the Deerfield Fire Department, brushfires spread to the piles of abandoned railroads ties increasing the resultant air pollution and the difficulty in extinguishing the fires, which exposed first-responders to additional health and safety risks.
In February 2007, MassDEP responded to a third complaint and observed several piles of abandoned railroad ties along the tracks on the upper banks of the Deerfield River in Charlemont. MassDEP issued an order to address the ties and assessed a penalty to Pan Am and B&M in May 2007 for the above noted violations. Pan Am and B&M later appealed the order and penalty.
In 2013, with the assistance of the Office of the Attorney General, MassDEP and Pan Am and B&M entered into a consent agreement to resolve the violations and the pact established protocols for the proper management of railroad ties. Pan Am and B&M paid a penalty of $49,746.50 at that time; MassDEP agreed to suspend $10,000 of the penalty. The management protocols allow for temporary staging of used ties for recycling, stipulates conditions and limits the storage periods and requires storage of ties in a manner that minimizes fire hazard and threats to emergency response personnel.
In 2015, MassDEP was notified of three fires involving discarded rail ties. Fires involving rail ties occurred on April 19, 2015 in Buckland, May 8, 2015 in Athol and November 24, 2015 in Holyoke. On June 13, 2017, 11 fire departments from three states had to respond to a large rail tie pile fire in Northfield. The remainder of this pile continues to present an unacceptable fire hazard.
In response to a complaint, on June 19, 2017, MassDEP inspected a large rail tie pile in Buckland, near the town center, that also presents an unacceptable fire hazard.
In both recent cases, the management of the ties is in violation of the approved management plan and solid waste regulations. As a result, MassDEP has issued a demand for stipulated penalties of $60,000 from Pan Am and B&M for solid waste violations and failure to comply with the consent agreement. MassDEP is also requiring Pan Am and B&M to come into compliance with the agreement.
“This has been a continuing conversation with the railroad and to date, their response has been completely inadequate,” said Michael Gorski, director of MassDEP’s Western Regional Office in Springfield. “It is critical that Massachusetts businesses manage their wastes in a manner that does not present an increased risk to the health and safety of the public or first-responders.”
MassDEP is responsible for ensuring clean air and water, safe management and recycling of solid and hazardous wastes, timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and spills, and the preservation of wetlands and coastal resources.