U.S. News

Con Edison reaches $153 million settlement over fatal 2014 Harlem blast

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Consolidated Edison Inc has reached a $153.3 million settlement with New York State stemming from a 2014 natural gas explosion in the East Harlem section of Manhattan that killed eight people.

The accord was announced on Thursday by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who called it the largest gas safety-related settlement in the state’s history.

It followed a June 2015 report in which the National Transportation Safety Board said the explosion was likely caused by a faulty connection between two Con Edison gas pipes, as well as a hole in a nearby sewer line that New York City had known about for at least eight years.

The March 12, 2014 blast and resulting fire destroyed two five-story buildings on Park Avenue, between East 116th Street and East 117th Street, across from the elevated Metro-North tracks.

More than 50 people suffered injuries from the blast, which also displaced more than 100 families and several businesses.

The NTSB said the failure of residents to report a gas odor they noticed, and Con Ed’s failure to notify the Fire Department faster once it learned of a problem, were also factors in what occurred.

Con Edison did not admit to violating any law, or that its activities caused or contributed to the explosion, according to the settlement agreement.

“The East Harlem tragedy and ensuing investigations by Con Edison and other agencies have led to significant safety improvements and heightened public awareness,” the company said in a statement. “Today’s agreement will enhance those efforts.”

The settlement includes a $25.1 million fund to benefit gas customers, and covers costs to fix gas pipes, improve responses to leaks, compensate residents and businesses injured by the explosion, and improve education.

Con Edison agreed not to seek reimbursement from customers for $125.5 million it has spent on gas leak response activities.

Thursday’s settlement does not resolve individual civil claims against Con Edison related to the explosion.

“The East Harlem explosion was devastating and entirely avoidable,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This landmark action is a pointed reminder to the energy companies of their awesome responsibility to maintain safety first and foremost.”

Con Edison’s settlement was approved by the state’s Public Service Commission.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by G Crosse and Alan Crosby