|Friday, Nov 18, 2005|
On March 1, 2002, a private land owner severely damaged a wooden trestle within Appalachian National Scenic Trail while burning brush on his property. The land owners property is adjacent to the Virginia Creeper Trail Trestle Bridge #17, a part of the trail in Damascus, Virginia. The USFS maintains the trestle and had recently completed a pedestrian walkway across it. A USFS patrol captain, assisted by a USFS LE officer, investigated the incident and determined that the land owners fire started the fire that damaged Trestle #17. The investigation showed that the landowner left his property for an hour to have dinner after starting a number of small fires, which he thought were extinguished. When he returned to his property to check for hot spots, he found the trestle on fire. The damage to the trestle, including response and assessment costs, totaled $43,000. The case was forwarded to the DOI Solicitors Office and eventually on to the AUSA for the Western District of Virginia. Although the NPS was willing to settle and ultimately dropped the figure to $26,000 during settlement negotiations, the responsible partys insurance company was unwilling to raise their counter offer above $8,000. In coordination with the Environmental Response Damage Assessment and Restoration Unit (ERDAR), the NPS decided to not accept the counter offer from the insurance company and moved forward with litigation. The jury trial was held on October 25th and 26th in Abingdon, Virginia. The AUSA, with the assistance of a DOI solicitor, successfully argued the NPS case. The jury returned late in the day on October 26th with a verdict in favor of the United States. This is the first 19jj case that has gone to trial. With the successful outcome, the park will receive the $43,000, which both parties had stipulated to before trial, for restoration of the trestle and reimbursement of the parks response and assessment costs. Parks are reminded that under DO-14, parks are to contact ERDAR concerning all potential 19jj cases which include injuries to facilities (fences, stop signs, patrol cars etc), natural and cultural resources. The contact should be made before a value is placed on the resource injured to insure Servicewide consistency. The authorized official for all 19jj cases is the Associate Director, Natural Resource Stewardship and Science, who is the only person with the delegated authority to officially refer a civil 19jj case to the DOI Solicitors Office or to DOJ (including the AUSA). Parks should consult with ERDAR before contacting the DOI Solicitors Office or the civil AUSA. Please refer to DO-14, Resource Damage Assessments and Restoration Policies and Implementation Handbook, for general guidance. If you have questions concerning the case, please contact Robert Gray, chief ranger for the Appalachian Trail, at 304-535-6171. Questions concerning 19jj should go to Karen Battle, damage assessment case officer, at 404-331-0334. For assignment of a case officer for your 19jj case, please contact Rick Dawson, damage assessment program manager, at 404-331-0185.