Friday, November 17, 2017

An Update on the Railyard Lawsuit

Attorney Bill Goodell speaks at the
January 2017 Y-49 public meeting 
The lawsuit asking that the Union Pacific Railroad take action on its abandoned railyard in downtown Lafayette received a lot of attention in our community and the press in 2016. However, for most of 2017 little has been discussed or reported on the railyard lawsuit.  It is therefore time to review the lawsuit and its present status.

In February of 2016, The legal team for the lawsuit plaintiffs - the Salvation Army, et al. - filed a petition with the court against defendants including - the Union Pacific Railroad, and the Southern Pacific Motor Company. The lawsuit was reported in all of the Lafayette local newspapers throughout 2016 (see the list of articles at the end of this post). In press releases in 2016, the plaintiff's attorney, William Goodell, summarized the case. Goodell's February 2016 news release read in-part:

Despite an Environmental Impact Statement, two prior lawsuits, piecemeal testing, and decades of environmental regulatory agency “oversight”, no meaningful action has been ordered, much less taken, to require a comprehensive assessment of the environmental impact.
Soil and shallow groundwater testing on file at the LDEQ confirms the presence of a toxic stew of “Superfund” hazardous substances perilously perched atop the Chicot Aquifer; yet, available LDEQ records reveal no testing or cleanup in the Chicot has ever been ordered or performed.
The documented contamination at the site constitutes an illegal, imminent, and substantial endangerment to the health and safety of Plaintiffs and the entire Lafayette community.
A comprehensive, site-wide assessment of the former rail yard is necessary to design a meaningful cleanup of the former rail yard and adjacent areas, to eliminate the threat it poses to the Chicot Aquifer, to prevent further contaminant migration, and to protect the entire Lafayette community.
The suit challenges Defendants to meet with Plaintiffs’ attorneys and experts and LDEQ to promptly:
  1. Accept responsibility for this environmental damage;
  2. Develop and adopt a mutually agreeable comprehensive assessment plan that will identify and characterize all contaminants throughout the entire site;
  3. Define the horizontal and vertical extent of that contamination both on and off site; and
  4. Adopt a timeline to properly and expeditiously clean up Defendants’ toxic legacy to the Lafayette community.  ...
The lawsuit alleges a failure to warn the people of Lafayette of the dangers that the rail yard contamination presents, and that:
“In the past and to this very day, Defendants actively concealed and intentionally failed to disclose evidence of the ... contamination despite clear knowledge of it and its dangers to Plaintiffs and the Lafayette community.”

On December 14, 2016, plaintiff's attorney William Goodell issued a press release further detailing what is known about contamination at the site, and calling for our political leaders in Lafayette government and our Louisiana state agencies to "embrace" their constitutional "responsibilities as public trustees and do the right thing." In a further press release on December 20, 2016, Goodell warned against continuing to pursue I-49 Connector land acquisition and construction until the Union Pacific Railroad (UPR) has responded to demands to survey and clean up their contamination. He warned specifically that

  • I-49 Connector construction will increase damage to the aquifer from UPR contamination and make public entities involved partially liable for the aquifer damage
  • I-49 Connector construction will make cleanup of UPR aquifer contamination more difficult, more expensive, and more time consuming—if not impossible
  • UPR rail yard cleanup as a part of the I-49 Connector construction project will make taxpayers foot the bill for UPR responsibility

I have noted public misunderstanding and some individuals stating wrong "facts" concerning the railyard lawsuit. As I have discussed this case with others in the community, or read their social media commentary, I have been surprised to hear otherwise well-informed people saying, for example, that I, Mike Waldon, sued the railroad (I did not!), that the Sierra Club sued the railroad (they did not!), and that the plaintiffs sued the city government (they did not!). Others have implied to me that this  lawsuit is backed up by little evidence of any serious risk coming from the old railyard - nothing could be further from the truth!

Since December, I am unaware of any media coverage of the railyard lawsuit. So, you may ask "what is the current status of the suit? For almost one year the legal fight has been over whether the proceedings should move forward in a federal or a state court. The plaintiffs initially filed in state court, but the defendants argued that it should be moved to federal court. This question has finally been answered, and a state court will hear the case. With that question resolved, we should begin seeing substantive legal progress in the coming months.

Related Lafayette News Articles

Daily Advertiser February 1, 2016, Lawsuit filed over contamination in I-49 corridor

The Independent December 20, 2016, Contamination lawsuit moving forward


  1. News:Judge recused from suit alleging former Lafayette rail site threatens drinking water

  2. Good job Dr Waldon. I'm glad this info is on record. I hope that this will further public awareness in the community, and that LCG, and DOTD will respond in a meaningful way. I urge others to comment and or share this.