CSX Transportation and Curtis Bay residents who sued the company following a December 2021 explosion at its South Baltimore facility have reached a $1.75 million settlement in a class action lawsuit.

The preliminarily approved class settlement agreement was filed in early April. Notices about the settlement started going out to Curtis Bay residents Monday, an attorney for the plaintiffs said.

The settlement amount is $1,750,000. If approved by a judge, that amount — minus attorney’s fees and settlement fund administration costs — will be split between claimants.

People who live in Curtis Bay are eligible to file a claim to receive a payout. A person who does not file a claim will not receive any money.

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The settlement includes stipulations that CSX continues to deny any wrongdoing in connection to the coal explosion and does not concede liability.

The agreement comes at a consequential moment for the Jacksonville, Florida-based rail giant. Maryland environmental regulators are poised to release a new permit for the company’s Curtis Bay coal piers — its first since the late 2021 explosion – while Curtis Bay advocates and community members have called on the state to shut the facility down. Regulators were expected to release a draft version of the permit earlier this year but delayed the process following the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

On top of the explosion, community members have pointed to the coal dust that research says wafts off the CSX property and into the neighborhood. And while regulators have argued that they don’t have authority to shutter the piers, the permit could offer a lever for the state to clamp down on the site.

Short of denying CSX its permit, state regulators could mandate stricter protections against coal dust or even force the company to enclose its open-air terminal.

In a statement, CSX confirmed that a settlement had been reached and called the explosion a “one-time event” in the 140-year life span of the facility “that did not result in any injuries.” The company said it has invested more than $60 million in the Curtis Bay Piers facility in the last five years.

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“CSX remains steadfast in our long-term commitment to ensuring the safety and health of our employees and our neighboring communities and we look forward to continuing to be an integral member of the Baltimore community for generations to come,” the company said.

To be eligible, a person has to have been living in Curtis Bay “as their primary residence” on the date of the explosion or owns or owned property in the area on or since the explosion.

The borders of the area are defined roughly as bounded to the north by Patapsco Avenue near Benjamin Franklin High School, to the west by West Bay Avenue, to the south by the area around Arundel Boulevard and to the east by Curtis Avenue.

Two Curtis Bay residents, Cheyenne Shongo and Kennett Walker, first sued CSX almost a full year after the coal explosion rocked Curtis Bay, breaking windows and sending coal through the neighborhood.

In a statement, the Community of Curtis Bay Association welcomed the settlement but said it doesn’t go far enough “to achieve justice” after the explosion. To the community association, the settlement represents proof that CSX recognizes their operations harm residents in the neighborhood, “no matter how hard they try and deny it, or shift blame to other industries.”

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We “couldn’t be prouder of our community for standing up and securing some relief for residents,” the community association’s statement said. “We are continuing to work towards the day when we no longer have to worry about coal dust in our community.”

The state’s decision on CSX’s environmental permit also comes as Maryland is pursing aggressive goals to phase out fossil fuels and ensure justice for communities like Curtis Bay at the frontlines of industry.

Still, coal is big business for the Port of Baltimore. Driven largely by growing demand in Asia, coal exports through CSX and a separate terminal across the water have surged recently, rising to a historic peak in 2023.

In addition to class members who file a claim, the plaintiffs’ attorneys are able to file a motion seeking fees and expenses from the settlement fund not to exceed $577,500, about 33% of the settlement amount. The two named plaintiffs can also file a motion for an incentive award not to exceed $5,000.

In addition to damages, the lawsuit sought the establishment of a medical monitoring fund. No such fund is established by the class settlement agreement that was filed in April.

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It does establish a Cy Pres Fund, which will consist of any funds remaining from the settlement fund after it is paid out (including fees). The Cy Pres Fund, if there is one, will be paid out at the court’s discretion.

This settlement is not the first CSX has reached connected to the explosion. The company settled with the Maryland Department of the Environment in December 2022, though for a much smaller amount. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the rail company more than $120,000 in the wake of the explosion.

The parties in the lawsuit agreed and recommended that the recipient of any remaining funds be Drink At The Well Inc., a nonprofit that offers support and services to women based in Curtis Bay.

The settlement terms will have to be approved by a judge. A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 11.