State of Illinois Settles Ethanol Spill Fish Kill Case

- by Pam Eggemeier, March 5, 2015, Sauk Valley

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"429","attributes":{"alt":"Rock River Illinois ethanol fish kill","class":"media-image","style":"width: 333px; height: 239px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: Alex T. Paschal"}}]]A settlement has been reached with a railroad company responsible for an ethanol spill that caused a significant fish kill in the Rock River nearly 6 years ago, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office announced Thursday.

In June 2009, a Chicago, Central and Pacific Railroad train derailed in Rockford, killing one person. The explosion and resulting fire caused the release of up to 75,000 gallons of an ethanol and gasoline mixture into the surrounding environment, including several miles of the Rock River and its tributaries.

The settlement calls for CCP to pay $150,000 to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Winnebago County to settle alleged violations of the state’s Environmental Protection Act.

Madigan said CCP also agreed to pay $270,000 to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to fund restoration of two nature areas near the Rock River. The company will also pay for a $150,000 stream restoration project in the affected area.

“This settlement ensures funding is in place to complete efforts to restore the natural areas damaged by the ethanol leak,” Madigan said in a news release.

The ethanol spilled into a creek, flowed into the Kishwaukee River, and emptied into the Rock River.

Two days after the derailment, Sauk Valley residents began to notice large numbers of dead fish washing up on the Rock’s shores. Dead fish were spotted along a 54-mile stretch of the river, from the Grand Detour to Prophetstown areas.

Ethanol triggers a bacterial process in river water that leads to oxygen deprivation and the subsequent suffocation of fish. Since the derailment, under the oversight of IEPA, the railroad company has worked to remediate the contaminated areas.

“This derailment caused significant impacts to the air, land and water, which required a thorough investigation, substantial research and extensive environmental remediation,” Illinois EPA Director Lisa Bonnett said.

Bonnett said the settlement finally closed the door on what had been a painstaking process.

“The coordinated efforts of state agencies have completed the investigation and cleanup of the release,” Bonnett said, “and this final consent order brings closure to one of Illinois’ largest environmental emergencies.”