Coal spill clean-up under way

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

More than 3,500 tons of coal are being removed from Cabinet Gorge Reservoir after an August train derailment in Northwest Montana.

The Associated Press reports that 31 cars derailed in the incident, each carrying a 122-ton load of coal which spilled along 200 feet of riverbank near Noxon, Mont. While the derailment occurred last month, cleanup only started last week, beginning with scrap and coal removal.

“A large percentage of the coal has been loaded on railcars and removed from the site,” Jim Lewis, information officer for Montana Rail Link, told the Missoulian. “The clean-up process has gone well and will wrap up shortly.”

Following the derailment, it took two days to clear the tracks and open them for train traffic once again. Kristi Ponozzo, public policy director for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, told the Associated Press that fewer than 10 tons of coal reached river water.

According to Lewis, coal is not classified as a hazardous substance under Federal Railroad Administration regulations. To date, Lewis said no cause for the derailment has yet been identified.

However, conservation groups like Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper object to that assessment. LPOW director Shannon Williamson said studies indicate coal and coal dust have a detrimental impact on the environment and public health. They cite the incident as reason to be concerned about the possibility of a coal or oil train derailment into Lake Pend Oreille or its connected waterways.

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