Railroad settles Mississippi River oil spill claim
Dec. 10, 2014
FILE - In this July 9, 2008
file photo railroad personnel survey damage to
several engine cars that were derailed into the
backwaters of the Mississippi River near Guttenberg,
Iowa. Canadian Pacific has agreed to pay $625,000
without admitting wrongdoing to settle a civil
complaint filed Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014 to cover
environmental costs related to the derailment.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — 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
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 will also 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
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
"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."