Recovery/Assessment Begins After Train Derailment

DUBUQUE – A clean-up is slated to begin on Thursday (February 5) to recover ethanol on land and on the iced-covered surface of the Mississippi River following a train derailment that occurred Wednesday (February 4) north of Dubuque. There was a fire associated with the derailment on Wednesday, but it has burned out. There are three of the rail tankers in the water and a total of eight of the cars lost at least some ethanol. It is believed that one may have still have been leaking as of Thursday afternoon. Water sampling has also begun. The initial plan calls for the river to be sampled along the east side, the west side and in the middle, every 6,000 feet downstream from where the derailment occurred for approximately 10 miles.



Additional water samples will be taken from 1,000 feet upstream from the incident site, as well as sampling from Mud Lake on the Iowa side of the river and Sunfish Lake on the Wisconsin side of the river. The water will be sampled for dissolved oxygen, ethanol and for petroleum products. The primary concern associated with the spill is the threat to fish and other aquatic life. Ethanol in the water depletes oxygen. There are concerns about the potential impact to mussel beds along the river in the area where the spill occurred because mussels do not have the ability to easily move away when oxygen levels begin to sag. The segment of the river that has been impacted is within the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources plans to sample fish collected from fishermen to sample for any potential contaminants and ensure that fish caught from the river are safe to eat. Open water holes near the tips of wing dams and near the lock and dam will be monitored for signs of dead fish since significant portions of the river are currently iced over preventing fish mortality from being readily observed. Offloading what is left in the derailed tank cars was scheduled to begin Thursday afternoon. Once the remaining material can be offloaded and accounted for, estimates of how much ethanol may have reached the river can be made. There is approximately one-half of an acre of ethanol that pooled on the ground and froze on the land side of the track where the derailment occurred. It is estimated that approximately one acre of ice near the spill was covered. The plan is to use a stream sprayer to thaw the ethanol on the land side of the tracks and then vacuum the product into a tank. If the technique is successful, a similar attempt will be made on the ice to recover the ethanol there.

Assisting in response to the incident have been the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Dubuque County Conservation Board, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Sherrill Fire Department, the Dubuque Fire Department, the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

** This informational bulletin was released 5 Feb 2015 by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Services Division.
Railroad Settles Upper Mississippi River Oil Spill Claim
IOWA CITY, IOWA (AP) — A railroad has agreed to pay $625,000 to settle allegations that it failed to adequately clean up a 2008 oil spill that damaged the shoreline and aquatic life in the Mississippi River between Iowa and Wisconsin. The Dakota Minnesota and Eastern Railroad, a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific, would make the payment without admitting wrongdoing to resolve a civil complaint filed Tuesday by the state of Iowa and the U.S. government. The settlement, known as a consent decree, would cover the cost of assessing damage and pay for restoration activities. It’s expected to go into effect after a 30-day public comment period.


The case stems from a derailment that happened July 9, 2008, when a boulder dislodged by heavy rains tore up a section of the track on the river near Guttenberg, Iowa. Four diesel locomotives crashed into the river and were submerged and leaked oil for several days. Two workers suffered minor injuries. The complaint alleges that those engines leaked 4,400 gallons of diesel oil and other petroleum products, causing floating slicks of oil and oil sheen along a 10-mile stretch. The area of the river, known as the Bluff Slough, is across from Cassville, Wisconsin.
Few birds or fish died, but other slower-moving aquatic life that lived in or near shore habitats were affected by the floating oil. The spill, which came as the river was at flood stage, resulted in the loss of mussels that are considered endangered and threatened species and damage to mayflies, a rare mudpuppy and a water snake, the complaint says. Much of the oil on the shoreline wasn’t cleaned up, while some of it stuck to sediments that flowed downstream in the high and turbulent waters, the complaint said. Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesman Kevin Baskins said the restoration work will include re-establishing mussel beds

that were disturbed when the company built a platform to remove the locomotives. A damaged parking lot also will be repaired. “We’re glad to have the opportunity to restore a sensitive area of the river,” he said. “Anytime we can make an effort to increase mussel survival and production, it’s something that’s real positive for the ecosystem as a whole.”
After the derailment, state officials worried that the railroad took too long to remove the engines from the river and to respond to the environmental threat they posed. Workers deployed booms to contain the discharged oil, used pads to absorb floating oil, removed oiled vegetation and eventually re-railed the locomotives and grain cars, the complaint said. However, the response “was not able to remediate the entire area affected by the discharge incident” and didn’t address oil that sank in the river. The complaint alleged a violation of the Oil Pollution Act. Canadian Pacific spokesman Andy Cummings called the derailment an “unusual incident,” saying the company is pleased to have the complaint resolved. The consent decree says the payment would avoid complicated litigation and expedite restoration work. Government lawyers can withdraw the settlement if public comments “disclose facts or considerations” that show it to be inadequate. Wally Taylor, a Cedar Rapids environmental attorney, said he will consider filing a comment on behalf of the Sierra Club. “It sounds like it’s not nearly enough,” he said of the settlement. “I suspect the company probably resisted pretty strongly but that the government didn’t want to really take them to court.?

*** Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press;
originally published 10 Dec 2014.
What Others Say …

Train derailment near Guttenberg, IA -July 2008

The lyrics of a song made popular in the 1960s by the Shirelles state ?There’ll be days like this.? However, after almost three decades with the Service and the last two spent at the La Crosse FWCO, I’d never had a day like 9 February 2015 before. Yes, I’d previously handled large volumes of river sediment … at times requiring chain-of custody protocols … but never in the form of frozen slabs requiring a fork lift to safely move them!
Recovered by vigilant Iowa Department of Natural Resources employees at a derailment site near Dubuque (page 4), five slabs of frozen river sediments containing mussels impacted (literally) by rail cars were brought to our heated garage where the dimensions of each icy slab were measured and recorded.
Days later, mussel biologist Nathan Eckert (Genoa National Fish Hatchery) led a team of biologists and railway agents who sieved and meticulously inspected the sediments like forensic scientists to identify/enumerate fresh-dead mussels and remnant shells. A total of 19 fresh-dead mussels (representing six species) were recovered in these efforts and 23 species were identified from relic shells. Based on these data, slab dimensions, and estimates of the mussel-bed area impacted by the rail cars and recovery operations, natural resource agencies are likely seek just compensation for the loss of these and other impacted trust resources.
Days like these we can do without; but we’re prepared for them.

By Mark Steingraeber

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