Cost of Mosier derailment adding up

EMERGENCY CREWS confer at June’s derailment fire in Mosier. At right, a Union Pacific Railroad pickup truck pulls onto Hwy. 30, from the Interstate 84 off-ramp. Costs from the incident are still stacking up, six months later, as agencies seek compensation from the railroad.

Vancouver (AP) — Six months after a train hauling Bakken crude oil derailed in Mosier, officials in Washington, Oregon, and elsewhere are still tabulating a bill to send to Union Pacific Railroad.

Union Pacific said in a statement that it is committed to absorbing all the costs incurred as a result of the fiery crash on June 3 in Mosier, Ore.

The railroad is not required to disclose costs associated with its cleanup efforts or how much its insurance policy will cover, The Columbian newspaper reported. But an email obtained by the newspaper shows the railroad has estimated its costs associated with the derailment at about $8.9 million.

The railroad reported $1.7 million in equipment damage and $176,811 in track damage to the Federal Railroad Administration, with the remaining millions for response and remediation costs.

A group of Mosier leaders has gathered to seek an agreement for compensation from Union Pacific Railroad in the aftermath of June’s train derailment. The group features city, fire department, and school officials.

Meanwhile, an intergovernmental group made up of officials with Mosier city, the fire district and a school foundation — called Team Mosier — is currently in negotiations with the railroad over compensation and other issues.

William Gary, a Portland-based attorney working with that Mosier group, declined to say what kind of compensation the government agencies are seeking. "We are in a confidential mediation at the moment," Gary said. "We're working with the railroad to resolve a host of fairly complicated issues."

According to the group’s website, Team Mosier “hopes to come to a fair and reasonable agreement with Union Pacific” on four main categories.

Those include out-of-pocket expenses from the short-term derailment response and spill, long-term matters such as environment, economics, health and social impacts still being studied, railway safety, and capacity of local services to respond to such future incidents.

Three Oregon agencies that responded to the Columbian’s request for information, including the Department of Environmental Quality, say they're seeking a total of nearly $400,000 in reimbursement costs. Those numbers could increase.

The Environmental Protection Agency's bill is at $340,000, the Columbian reported.

And two Washington agencies that responded to the derailment are billing the railroad $66,000 next month, a Department of Ecology spokeswoman said.

Sixteen tanker cars that went off the tracks in June held 448,000 gallons of oil, but only 47,000 gallons leaked.

Much of that went into a wastewater treatment unit, avoiding a more difficult river cleanup.

The City of Hood River was compensated $36,000 for accepting extra sewage from Mosier when the community’s wastewater system was knocked offline by the oil spill. Mosier’s facility was back in action by mid-June.

There remain unanswered questions, however, such as the degree to which the river was affected and what long-term effects there could be on the groundwater and soil.

DEQ test wells found contaminated groundwater near the derailment in July, which officials said had no effect on municipal drinking water. The agency’s staff continue to monitor the site, according to a Nov. 29 report by Bob Schwarz, project manager.

Work is underway to restore the area affected by the derailment, Schwarz said. The fence that ran along the tracks has been replaced. Damaged trees have been removed, and Oregon Department of Transportation and the city are discussing plans for revegetation. Gravel and sand have been placed on the beach. Mulch and seed were applied to the steep slope on the south side of the highway within the affected area.

Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska waters in 1989, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act in 1990. That law requires polluters pay for cleanup, remediation and response costs; they must have insurance and the funds to cover the cleanup.

To address the risks of oil movement through the state, the Washington Legislature in 2015 passed a law that will soon require railroads hauling crude oil to demonstrate the ability to pay damages in the event of a spill.

They will also be required to share information about the type of oil and the volume with the state and first responders. California and Minnesota have similar laws, according to Washington's Department of Ecology. But Oregon does not have such a law.

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