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Fresh Water, Foul Sewage

by Mark Reutter8:06 amDec 21, 20230

A bathroom break in Curtis Bay costs Baltimore taxpayers $100,000

City admits a Spiniello worker dumped sewage into a CSX drainage ditch while its inspector was indisposed. CSX says dumping of foul brown liquid happened multiple times.

Above: The Curtis Bay coal terminal, site of a longstanding legal dispute between CSX and the city and its sewer contractor Spiniello. (J.M. Giordano)

A Baltimore Public Works inspector was not written up or suspended for failing to notice that sewer sludge was being illegally dumped into a CSX drainage ditch because he was off using the bathroom.

“There was no disciplinary action because I can’t deny anybody that needs to do certain things,” Angela Cornish, DPW construction project supervisor, explained to the Board of Estimates yesterday before the panel agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the railroad company.

“The inspector had to go take care of some bodily needs,” Cornish continued, “and as his back was turned, you know, this incident happened.”

The 2018 incident, which caused $1.9 million in damages to CSX’s dust suppression water system and three days of suspended coal operations, “was not not a failure on our part to report,” Cornish declared.

“It was that the inspector at that time had stepped away and as he stepped away, someone else on CSX staff had actually saw this and reported it back,” she said.

That explanation, coupled with Deputy City Solicitor Stephen Salsbury’s warning to the board not to address “personnel actions” in public, ended questioning by Comptroller Bill Henry.

What followed was unanimous approval of the settlement by Henry, Salsbury, Mayor Brandon Scott, Council President Nick Mosby and Interim DPW Director Richard Luna.

Construction Supervisor Angela Cornish addresses the BOE as Paul Sayan, acting chief of the Bureau of Water and Wastewater, stands to her side. (CharmTV)

Construction Supervisor Angela Cornish addresses the BOE as Paul Sayan, acting head of the Bureau of Water and Wastewater, stands to her side. (CharmTV)

Decanting into a Ditch

The dispute arose after New Jersey-based Spiniello, which historically wins the bulk of city sewer contracts, secured a $26.3 million award to clean and reline sanitary mains that converge beneath CSX’s coal terminal at Curtis Bay.

According to hundreds of pages of depositions filed in U.S. District Court, the city signed a right-of-entry agreement that gave Spiniello crews access to the CSX property, and in October 2018 the contractor was working around the clock cleaning out the sewer pipes.

The established practice was to blast high-pressure water into the pipes to dislodge the sediment and debris, then suck out the resulting sludge into the tank of a vacuum truck.

When the tank was full, it would be “decanted,” with the liquid separated and directed back into the sewer and the solids in the tank trucked off-site.

On the evening of October 12, 2018, CSX Operations Supervisor Jason Preston noticed, while driving through the facility, that the bed of the vacuum truck was up in the air and the liquid coming out the hose was emptying in an open ditch rather than into the sewer pipe.

The supervisor said in his deposition that he confronted the Spiniello crew and they confessed to decanting the liquid into the ditch not just this one time, but for a number of weeks.

DPW inspectors were assigned around-the-clock. Court records never made clear why an inspector was not present that evening.

DPW inspectors were assigned to the site around-the-clock on three shifts.

Why an inspector was not present that evening was not made clear in the court record.

Spiniello quickly confessed that the crew had “accidentally” spilled between 50 and 100 gallons of liquid into the ditch. CSX immediately shut down the pump used to clean the coal before it was loaded onto ships.

The railroad tested and found pollutants, especially elevated levels of E. coli, in coal piles and equipment throughout the plant, along with dark chocolate-colored water in ditches that “smelled pretty bad,” according to CSX’s environmental services manager.

Spiniello was kicked off the property, and Cornish acknowledged in a later court deposition that E. coli-contaminated equipment and hoses full of sewer water were left behind by the contractor.

Two months later, Spiniello was allowed to return to the site to finish the work, while Baltimore was invoiced $1,918,611,62 in environmental clean-up costs by CSX.

High levels of fecal E.coli bacteria found at the CSX plant the day following the dumping incident. (CSX Transportation Inc. v. Spiniello Global Inc.)

High levels of fecal E.coli bacteria found at the CSX plant on the day following the dumping incident. (CSX Transportation Inc. v. Spiniello Global Inc., et al)

Court Ruling

In October 2019, the Florida-based railroad filed suit against Spiniello and the city.

This resulted in years of discovery and depositions that partially ended when U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar ruled in August that CSX had not proven that Spiniello was dumping contaminated water prior to October 12, 2018.

Bredar noted that the Spiniello worker caught dumping had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 20 times in his deposition; the testimony of the DPW inspectors was not cited in his ruling.

The case between Spiniello and CSX is ongoing, city attorney Kurt Heinrich said yesterday, but Baltimore’s liability is limited to a breach of its right-of-entry agreement with the railroad.

The ruling allowed CSX to recover attorney fees – the $100,000 settlement that will come out of the city’s general funds – and cleared the inspector of malfeasance in Cornish’s eyes.

“There was an investigation of incidents,” she told the spending board, “and it showed that there was no proof of any other incidents.”

To reach this reporter: reuttermark@yahoo.com

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