New York State and Con Edison have reached a $153.3 million settlement over a 2014 East Harlem gas explosion that destroyed two buildings and killed eight people. The settlement was announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office that called the agreement the largest gas-safety related financial settlement in state history. The settlement was approved by the New York State Public Service Commission and Consolidated Edison. It includes a fund of more than $25 million specifically for the company’s gas customers. That money will be spent in a way to be determined by the commission.
Con Edison also agreed not to seek reimbursement from consumers for $125.5 million spent on leak-response activities since the explosion. Attorney General Cuomo said in a statement:
The East Harlem explosion was devastating and entirely avoidable. This landmark action is a pointed reminder to the energy companies of their awesome responsibility to maintain safety first and foremost.
The Attorney General’s settlement does not resolve outstanding civil liabilities related to the explosion brought by individuals against the company. The settlement follows a 2015 report by the Department of Public Service that found Con Edison violated safety regulations in the lead-up to the explosion. According to the governor’s announcement, the company failed to properly qualify employees to perform certain tasks and did not install valves capable of shutting down the gas system during emergencies.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators in 2015 said in a public hearing that a line installed in an adjacent building to the two that were destroyed was improperly fused to the main line. When the main line began to sag due to soil erosion caused by a nearby sewer main rupture, the newly fused line began to separate, which allowed gas to seep through the ground and into the two buildings.
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection was faulted because it had been notified of the rupture as early as 2006 but decided to leave it be. That hole in the sewer line allowed groundwater to seep into the area and erode the soil around the gas pipeline, causing it to sag. The NTSB investigators found, had the gas segment been fused properly to the then-sagging main line, soil erosion wouldn’t have mattered. What resulted was a blast that not only killed eight, but injured 50 and displaced twice that number, according to an NTSB report.
The explosion, which occurred in March 2014 at around 9:30 a.m., collapsed two five-story buildings on Park Avenue and sent so much debris flying that Metro-North Railroad had to shut its service down for seven hours to clear material blown onto its elevated tracks.
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