Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

COUNTY CITES SAFETY ISSUE AND LACK OF PRIOR APPROVAL

Morris County filed legal papers today in Superior Court asking for a restraining order to prevent the Morristown & Erie Railway from storing rail cars that are filled with propane and butane on the tracks of the county owned High Bridge Rail Line in western Morris County.MC

The county also asked the court to prevent Morristown & Erie from fulfilling a contractual agreement that would add to the 18 butane-filled rail cars already parked on the tracks in Mount Olive, with as many as 100 rail cars expected by the end of this month.

The county, which owns the line that is managed and operated by Morristown & Erie, alleges the company failed to adhere to its contractual agreement to seek county approval for any uses on the rail line other than commercial freight hauling.

The legal papers also contend Morristown & Erie did not alert county and local fire and emergency responders to the storage plan, and does not have an emergency response plan in place.

A court hearing is expected this Friday, June 10, before Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury.

Morris County contracts with M & E Railway to operate rail services along its three county-owned railroads, including the High Bridge Branch located in the townships of Roxbury, Mount Olive, and Washington. That five-year contract commenced in 2012 and is due to expire on June 30, 2017.

RailUnder protest and legal correspondence demanding otherwise, the Morristown & Erie has contracted with Gibson Gas to store rail cars containing propane and butane along the High Bridge Branch in Mount Olive.

Though transport of these materials is allowable along rail lines, due to the county’s ownership of the High Bridge Branch, the county believes it is in a position to prevent such storage. County officials allege that M & E Railway did not properly consult with the county or hold promised briefings with the affected towns prior to implementing its contract to store the rail cars.

Morris County Officials are working cooperatively with the impacted municipalities to ensure the safety of residents via a two-track plan: Legal action, and a partnership with county, local and mutual aid emergency response agencies to prepare a comprehensive and coordinated response to any safety issues that arise due to storage of the rail tankers.

Morristown & Erie Railway has a one-year agreement with Gibson Gas to store up to 100 liquefied butane and propane cars on the High Bridge Branch. Under this arrangement storage would continue until the individual cars are transported to Gibson Gas customers.

The railway has communicated to the county that all federally-required safety and security requirements are in place. But this knowledge does not lessen the concerns of the county and local governments, which are adamant about preventing this practice.

Morristown & Erie Railway asserts it is acting within its rights as the rail line operator.

Scott DiGiralomo

Scott DiGiralomo

However, the county contends in its legal filing that the company has not followed protocols as outlined in the management agreement with the county, nor has it coordinated with the local emergency responders.

“At no point was I, nor any of my staff, contacted by anyone from M&E to discuss emergency response preparedness or contingency plans,’’ said Scott DiGiralomo, Morris County Director of Law and Public Safety and County Emergency Management Coordinator, in the legal filing.

“In essence, the loaded rail cars were moved into the county before the emergency response community had the opportunity to plan a specific response for an emergency involving a large number of LPG (propane and butane containing) rail cars.’’

To view the county’s legal request and complaint, visit: https://morriscountynj.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Order-to-Show-Cause.pdf and https://morriscountynj.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Verified-Complaint.pdf