A multi-car oil train derailment Friday in the Columbia River Gorge at Mosier sent up a massive plume of black smoke and stoked long-standing fears about the risks of hauling crude oil through one of the Pacific Northwest’s most renowned landscapes.
Eleven cars from a 96-car Union Pacific train derailed west of the small city about 12:20 p.m., adjacent to a creek that feeds the Columbia River. At least one car caught on fire and released oil, but no one was injured, said railroad spokesman Aaron Hunt.
The train originated in New Town, North Dakota, and was moving crude extracted from the Bakken formation to the U.S. Oil & Refinery Co. refinery in Tacoma, said company spokeswoman Marcia Nielsen.
The accident closed a 27-mile stretch of Interstate 84 for hours as a precaution and caused the evacuation of a community school.
State officials were still assessing the accident early Friday evening. The cause remained unclear.
“We don’t know whether there’s any environmental damage including whether there’s spillage to the Columbia,” said Jennifer Flynt, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, said there are no signs of oil in the Columbia River.
The cars derailed within about 20 feet from the city’s sewage plant, said Arlene Burns, mayor of the city of 440 people, east of Hood River. It’s not clear how much damage the plant sustained, she said. Residents have been asked not to use bathrooms and other drains into the city’s sewage lines.
“We’ve been saying for a long time that it’s not fair for trains with toxic loads to come into our towns near our Gorge,” Burns said. “We don’t have the capacity to fight these fires.”
The town, with the motto “Small Enough to Make a Difference,” is known for its orchards and vineyards. It has no gas station and one store. The cars jumped tracks under an overpass about 100 yards away from a mobile home park with 50 to 75 units.
Source: Oregon Live | Tony Hernandez