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More East Palestine fallout: Ohio seeks federal disaster declaration; NS files cleanup cost suit

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has requested that President Joe Biden issue a disaster declaration regarding the Norfolk Southern Railway derailment that occurred Feb. 3 in East Palestine.

DeWine outlined the request in a letter sent to Biden July 3 — the extended deadline set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the state to request such a declaration.

“The possibility remains that the voluntary support provided by Norfolk Southern could, at some point, cease in the future. This declaration is needed to ensure that the state and federal government use all resources available to step in and provide the community with needed assistance,” DeWine wrote.

Since the derailment, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency has maintained frequent contact with FEMA on numerous fronts, including the potential provision of federal aid. FEMA has consistently advised that such assistance would likely not be granted because of no unmet needs reported to the state, Ohio officials say.

To date, NS has reimbursed citizens and state/local governments for costs associated with damage caused by the derailment. However, concerns remain that FEMA assistance would be needed if that voluntary aid stops and about ongoing costs that might still develop, Ohio officials say.

“Because of the unique nature of this incident, the state is still working to identify current needs and evaluate the future impacts this disaster will have on individuals and the community,” DeWine wrote. “There have been economic impacts. Homeowners and business have seen property values decline and lost business as people are hesitant to come into the community.”

Meanwhile, NS has filed a lawsuit against several rail-car owners regarding the cleanup costs stemming from the derailment, according to Reuters.

Since the companies own the cars that carried hazardous materials on the derailed train — and some of those materials then spilled and polluted local waters — they are liable for cleanup costs under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act or the superfund law, the suit claims.

Since the accident, the railroad has committed to restoration efforts in East Palestine and the surrounding areas by investing in the community, remediating the site and working to create long-term funds to support real estate values, health care and water testing, NS officials said in an email.

“This third-party complaint does not change that commitment, but seeks to ensure that others responsible for the safe transport of freight, such as rail-car owners and shippers of the material being transported, contribute resources to the effort,” they said.