Environmental Protection

Union Pacific to Restore Streams, Wetlands and Pay Penalty

Union Pacific Railroad Company (UP) has agreed to settle alleged violations of the Clean Water Act in Nevada by restoring 122 acres of mountain-desert streams and wetlands, implementing stormwater controls at its construction sites, and paying a civil penalty, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Aug. 6.

As part of the settlement, UP will restore 21 sections of Clover Creek and Meadow Valley Wash, in Clark and Lincoln counties and will monitor eight major restoration areas for at least five years. The work will include removal of illegal fill, restoration, monitoring, maintenance, revegetation, and invasive species removal, at an estimated cost of $31 million. UP will also pay $800,000 in civil penalties.

"This settlement will restore Clover Creek and Meadow Valley Wash," said John C. Cruden, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are pleased that this agreement will result in the restoration of important mountain-desert streams and habitat for the state of Nevada."

The settlement resolves a complaint filed by the United States against UP for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act stemming from the railroad’s activities in Clover Creek and Meadow Valley Wash in 2005. In January 2005, UP railroad tracks sustained significant damage after a flood in southern Nevada. The company made time-critical actions to repair damage.

However, UP also conducted extensive non-emergency construction and stream alteration work without obtaining the required Clean Water Act permits, which could have minimized and compensated for the damage to the streams. UP's unauthorized discharges included the construction of massive structures to control stream flows, such as dikes, berms, levees and diversions within the stream systems. The structures ranged from five to 15 feet high, and from 20 to thousands of feet long.

The Clean Water Act requires anyone engaged in construction within waters of the United States to obtain permits when altering waterways. The Corps of Engineers issues permits to discharge fill in waterbodies. The state of Nevada is authorized to issue National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for the discharge of pollutants in stormwater from construction sites.

The proposed consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, is subject to a 30-day comment period and final court approval. A copy of the proposed consent decree is available on the Justice Department Web site at www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

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