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Plan calls for rail cars to haul contaminated Ashland soil

By Mark Freeman Associated Press

MEDFORD, Ore. – Union Pacific plans to use rail cars, not dump trucks, to haul away 18,700 cubic yards of contaminated soil as part of its long-awaited cleanup of its old railroad yard in Ashland.

The railroad announced its shift in how it plans to remove the contaminated soil Tuesday as part of its new proposal to clean up the 20-acre plot that was a railroad yard for 100 years and prepare it for potential sale over the next two years, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is considering the proposal.

Plans are to build an 800-foot-long spur rail from Union Pacific’s main line into the cleanup area so the soil contaminated with petroleum, lead, arsenic and other chemicals can be loaded onto rail cars and shipped to landfills for disposal, according to the DEQ.

That would replace the roughly 1,100 loads in dump trucks that would’ve rumbled down Oak Street and Clear Creek Drive to the yard north of A Street and between Pioneer and Eighth streets, according to the DEQ. However, Union Pacific’s plan still would call for about the same number of dump truck loads of clean fill that would be trucked to the site, according to a Dec. 30 DEQ memorandum on the cleanup plan.

The 2006 cleanup plan originally called for all the materials going in and out of the yard to be trucked, but Union Pacific has changed those delivery tactics after hearing major push-back from Ashland residents.

“We made this change in the mode of transportation to be responsive to community feedback,” Union Pacific spokesman Justin Jacobs said.

Jacobs said it would add to the hauling costs, but it is a better environmental decision because rail transportation uses less fuel than trucking.

City Councilor Greg Lemhouse called the rail car approach “a very positive sign” in Union Pacific’s approach to this cleanup of the yard that closed in 1986.

“That’s something we all wanted to see,” Lemhouse said.

DEQ Project Manager Greg Aitken said the agency hopes to finalize the cleanup plan next month, and Union Pacific hopes to begin work on the spur in the spring. Initial work would include stockpiling of the fill material, he said.

The cleanup proposal represents how Union Pacific will comply with a 2001 decision that contaminants there could pose a human health risk with future on-site development. While vacant, however, the yard offers no unacceptable risks to local residents or passers-by, the DEQ document states.

In 2006, the Union Pacific plan called for the removal of about 35,500 cubic yards of contaminated material. The new plan, however, requires less removal because it seeks to prepare the site for eventual sale, should Union Pacific choose that route, Aitken said.

Anyone wishing to develop the property would have to go back to DEQ for future tests and perhaps more cleanup depending upon what form of development is proposed, Aitken said.

The current plan calls for removal of what remnant structures remain there as well as the two man-made ponds that would be drained and back-filled, the DEQ memo states. In all, the excavation will remove an estimated 31,900 tons of material, the memo states.

The DEQ review concludes that the plan addresses the goals of the 2001 decision.

Ashland City Attorney Dave Lohman deferred to the DEQ on whether the cleanup proposal meets public health standards.

“That’s really not an issue the council has any expertise in,” Lohman said. “That’s a regulatory matter.”

Incoming City Councilor Dennis Slattery said he expects “a very robust community conversation” about the cleanup proposal.

DEQ is accepting written public comments about the plan through Jan. 31. The agency and Union Pacific will hold an informational meeting with the public on Jan. 19.

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