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Tainted soil to be hauled away from abandoned rail yard

At some point, likely this summer, big trucks will haul away many loads of petroleum-laden dirt from the Union Pacific rail yard along A Street, but the city wants to quash the rumor that this stuff is “toxic waste” being hauled through the town, week after week.

“It’s not toxic. It’s soil that got contaminated with metals, petroleum and its byproducts over many decades,” says city management analyst Ann Seltzer.

It will be hauled on Clear Creek, Oak and Eagle Mill streets, then taken to an upstate site for treatment or disposal, she notes. The hauling will take five weeks, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays starting at a date not yet set, but hopefully this summer. Trucks will make 25 trips a day.

Loads will be covered and truck wheels will be washed before leaving the site. The city is making sure steps are taken to control dust and erosion. Union Pacific must measure affected streets before and after the project and pay for any degradation of pavement, she said.

The rail yard site, now a vacant lot, on the north side of the tracks between Hersey and A streets, was fenced early in this century, when the state Department of Environmental Quality analyzed it and declared the dirt had to be removed and replaced with benign fill before Union Pacific could sell it for development.

Union Pacific said in 2006 and 2012 that it would do the job, but didn’t, said Seltzer, adding that it’s only digging up about 10 percent of the 20-acre rail yard this year, and much more work remains to be done.

On a Web page entitled “Rumor Control” (www.ashland.or.us/News.asp?NewsID=3308) the city says the cleanup project involves removal of an old underground fuel storage bunker and 7,500 cubic feet of “low risk” soil surrounding it, but no so-called “toxic waste.”

The rail yard was built by Southern Pacific and used for locomotive maintenance, service and rail car repair for 99 years, from 1887 (when the West Coast rail line was completed with the “golden spike” in Ashland) to 1986.

The city says it will notify nearby residents of the date of the hauling when that becomes known.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

A map shows the area where excavation of tainted soil is planned, just north of the railroad tracks just north of A Street. Map by GateHouse Media
Soil from two acres of what's now a vacant lot across the tracks northwest of Railroad Park will be hauled away due to contamination from petroleum and petroleum byproducts, the city has announced. Photo by John Darling