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Wendy Reuer, Published June 06 2012

Red River cleanup still in progress

MOORHEAD – Railroad crews here continue to clean up debris from a derailment March 17.

River Keepers Executive Director Bob Backman discovered the debris, which included railroad ties, walkway planks and bridge timbers, this spring.

The debris was believed by Backman, and BNSF Railway officials, to have come from a derailment near the bridge over First Avenue North.

The week of May 17, BNSF representative Amy Mcbeth said crews were dispatched to the area and cleanup was expected to take a few days.

Just before Memorial Day weekend, Backman and River Keepers counted 20 snags with railroad ties or bridge planks in them along about eight miles of river between the Johnson Park boat ramp in north Moorhead and the North River Subdivision in north Fargo.

Mcbeth said Wednesday that railroad crews have been on the river again this week doing further assessment as well as removing additional ties.

“I would expect they’ll be on the river the next several days,” Mcbeth said. “In some locations, the river has gone down so they’re going back over locations they previously mapped to see if anything has become visible.”

The railroad ties can be a concern as they are coated in creosote, a common wood preservation chemical derived from the distillation of tar.

“We do not believe the debris creates any concern regarding water quality.

Any debris that may be a potential concern for navigation has been removed immediately,” Mcbeth said. “In some cases, debris has been marked for removal and crews have removed it on subsequent trips on the river. But those would be instances where the material was not a potential concern for navigation.”

Moorhead Water Plant Supervisor Kris Knutson said the plant does regular testing of river water because it is used for the city’s water supply, but the debris hasn’t raised any red flags so far.

“If it was in front of our intake, I would be more concerned,” Knutson said. “It is downstream of our source water intake.”

Backman said River Keepers cleanup crews found more metal debris under the bridge just last week. Crews attempted to clean up what they could carry in canoes.

“Perhaps it could be faster but at least the ties that can now be found are being removed,” Backman said. “Next week we will again be conducting a routine survey of the Red, and as part of that effort we will determine if we can observe any more ties.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530