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Neighborhoodsby Ed Gunts7:53 amJan 27, 20160

Residents to receive $1.2 million from city, CSX for 26th St. collapse claims

Together with a payment from CSX of $700,000, claimants will receive $1.2 million following 2014 incident

Above: Cars parked along 26th Street were tossed into the railway cut after the wall collapse last April 30.

Thirty residents or property owners will share in a $467,500 settlement related to the collapse of portions of East 26th Street in 2014, under an agreement that Baltimore’s Board of Estimates  approved today.

Together with a payment by CSX of “up to $700,000,” that brings the amount claimants are receiving as a result of litigation over the April 30, 2014 incident to $1.2 million.

The settlement puts an end to all claims and disputes resulting from the street collapse that kept portions of East 26th Street under construction for months and became a symbol of the city’s problems with aging infrastructure.

“It puts an end to everything between the City and CSX,” said City Solicitor George Nilson, speaking with The Brew.

“CSX’s share of the payments to residents of 26th Street is approximately $700,000, and this resolves all outstanding claims related to that incident,” said spokesman Rob Doolittle.

According to a memo to the Board of Estimates from the city’s law department, 30 residents or property owners brought claims against the city alleging that they had sustained” personal injuries, property damage, loss of use and enjoyment damages and/or economic losses” arising from the sudden collapse of the south side of East 26th Street, between St. Paul and Charles streets, onto the CSX tracks below.

The parties, some of whom were displaced from their residences and otherwise inconvenienced, agreed to participate in a “voluntary mediation” process facilitated by retired Circuit Court Judge Carol E. Smith.

Under that process, they have agreed to settle all claims or disputes asserted or “which could have been asserted” with the city for $467,500.

The Settlement Committee of the Law Department recommends approval by the Board of Estimates, according to the law department memo.

Nilson said not all parties are receiving equal amounts, under the terms of the agreement.

Signs of Structural Distress

The payment is just a fraction of what the city will have paid out as a result of the collapse. In March, Budget Director Andrew W. Kleine estimated that Baltimore had spent least $15 million to repair the damage and fix the road.

The immediate cause of the wall’s failure was attributed to “epic rain events.” In the previous two days, more than 5 inches of rain had fallen in Baltimore. Residents said cracks and dips appeared in the roadway during the rains, while the sidewalk next to the retaining wall had visibly buckled.

Resident Sharon Zitser said the city never responded to her emails expressing concern about the possibility 26th street might collapse.

Resident Sharon Zitser said the city never responded to her emails expressing concern about the possibility 26th street might collapse. (Photo by Melody Simmons)

But there were signs of the street’s structural distress long before the rains.

For 12 to 14 months “citizens repeatedly reported soil erosion, settlement, potholes, sidewalk caving and similar conditions along 26th Street” to city officials and CSX Transportation, a four-page post-mortem of the collapse by the Department of Transportation subsequently confirmed.

The complaints were funneled through the bureaucracy. Transportation employees responded with maintenance inspections and quick fixes (filling in the cracks and potholes with asphalt), and referred the complaints to the Department of Public Works. DPW examined the water and sewer lines under 26th Street and concluded they were fine.

CSX inspected its right-of-way below the cut and, also finding it to be fine, told residents that “the city was the appropriate party for the complaints,” according to the August 2014 report.

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