Railway should pay expenses, DeWine says
Gov. Mike DeWine fully expects the Norfolk Southern Railway, which had a massive car derailment in East Palestine that resulted in evacuations and the release of toxic chemicals, to pay the cost of the incident.
“They’re the ones who created the problem,” he said Tuesday in an hour-plus interview with newspaper editors and reporters. “It’s their liability. They’re the ones who ought to pay for it.”
When it was pointed out that Norfolk Southern hasn’t paid for two other recent derailments — in Sandusky in October and between Steubenville and Toronto a month later — DeWine said: “I don’t know if we have a problem yet so I don’t want to anticipate. But if there is a problem, certainly we will do everything in our power to deal with that. Again, we don’t want to cross that bridge yet.”
The railroad company has “indicated their willingness to pay individuals’ relocation, hotels, etc. so we’ll see,” DeWine said.
The expenses related to the crash, evacuation and cleanup is expected to be quite high.
About 50 railroad cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed late Friday in East Palestine in a fiery crash. Five of the cars were carrying vinyl chloride, a toxic chemical.
It was determined Sunday evening that at least one rail car wasn’t in stable condition because of the vinyl chloride and if a certain temperature was hit, it could explode “with what they described as a catastrophic blowup,” DeWine said.
The nearby area already had been evacuated, and that evacuation area was expanded into western Pennsylvania because of the potentially deadly situation, he said.
Norfolk Southern presented “two not-so-great choices,” DeWine said. “One was to try to ride it out with the stability of at least one car being a real issue and they described it as if it went south, it went south quickly and you had a catastrophic explosion versus what they ended up doing, which was a controlled release.”
When the modeling of the controlled burn of five railroad cars was done, it was determined that parts of Pennsylvania would be impacted, DeWine said.
DeWine, a Republican,said he already was in contract with Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, and the two talked extensively about what should be done.
“He was great to work with, great to have someone to help me weigh the different options,” DeWine said. “The truth is, when you looked at the modeling, in one version, Pennsylvania was potentially more impacted than Ohio. If the public was watching it, they would have been happy to see the cooperation between the two governors and the two states.”
DeWine said the Ohio National Guard was getting help from the U.S. Department of Defense “to figure out how far the chemicals would go and what would be created when it went up. Basically, we made the decision that the safer thing to do was the controlled release.”
That was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Monday.
But when local law enforcement, Ohio State Highway Patrol and the National Guard cleared out of the area at 3 p.m. for safety reasons, two vehicles almost immediately breached the sectioned-off area to get a look at the derailment.
“It’s unbelievable,” DeWine said.
He added: “It’s the same thing that happens with fires. It’s the same thing that happens with tornadoes. People want to see it.”
That delayed the controlled burn for about an hour.
DeWine said he doesn’t know when people will be able to return to the location.
The area — as well as miles away — smells bad.
DeWine said: “We are monitoring the air outside the area, and the air continues to be good … We think we’re going to be OK, but that’s why you have monitors. It’s why we continue to do that. So far, so good.”
The governor praised officials in East Palestine and in Columbiana County for doing “a very good job under very difficult circumstances. It was a catastrophic wreck with potential serious, serious danger. Look, we’re not out of the woods yet. We’re going to continue to monitor the air quality and the water quality.”
Fish died in the smoke-covered area, DeWine said, but there are “no worries about drinking water at this point. This is not over with. When people can go back to their homes safely we don’t know yet. But things appear to be going well, and it appears the controlled thing they did worked as well as it could.”