MONTESANO — Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad removed its last rail cars by Monday afternoon, a full month after the derailment on Devonshire Road outside of Montesano happened, but the road will likely remain closed until Friday to allow more time for cleanup.
By Saturday, a crew had removed three of the spilled grain cars. And by 1 p.m., on Monday, the remaining four cars were also picked up. Workers continued to use heavy equipment to clear soymeal-covered brush and the trees, which had been soaked in clouds of soymeal and dust as the cleanup work began about a week ago. A stink continued to linger at the site, which has been permeated by fermented and rotting soymeal exposed by weeks of sun and rain.
By Monday afternoon, workers began removing much of the heavy equipment — including a large crane — used to right the toppled rail cars.
The derailment happened on May 15 — the third derailment on the Harbor. Railroad officials said the cause of the derailment was “a sun kink — a thermal misalignment.” The other two derailments on April 29 on State Street in Aberdeen and on May 9 in front of the Olympic Gateway Mall in east Aberdeen were both caused by “mud spots where mud pushes up underneath the railroad ties.” A fourth derailment in Centralia was caused by a “track geometry misalignment.”
County Road Engineer Russ Esses said he checked the road on Tuesday and talked to a crew on site to see when they could get the road re-opened, which connects Central Park Drive to Devonshire Road.
“The railroad crew requested we keep it closed for a few more days because they need to dismantle their crane… and do other work,” Esses said.
There had been an initial plan to get the road open earlier, as soon as the railroad was able to remove one car near the road. At that point, the county and the state Utilities & Transportation Commission, which has oversight of the railroad crossing, was supposed to require the railroad to spend the money to use flaggers.
However, that plan was never followed through.
Esses said there was a detour that drivers could take to get to Highway 12, however, there were no signs to indicate where the detour was — and no one on site was on scene to direct people to the detour.
“Our office didn’t think there was any real push to get the road open earlier,” Esses said on Tuesday. “Why penalize the railroad to make them have flaggers? A car waiting for a flagger would have had a, maybe, 15-minute wait — or they could have taken a detour and gotten around within a few minutes.”
Esses conceded that had the county required the flaggers, there would have been an extra expense borne by the railroad, “and that might have sped them along a bit more.”
During the county commissioners’ regular meeting Monday afternoon, one neighbor had had enough.
“It’s been a month and the road is still closed,” said Mike Daniels, who lives near the derailment site. “It’s a county road. They don’t clean it up as they’re working and I think it ought to be open, given it’s a county road, and there ought to be flagmen there and I think if it costs the railroad for flagmen 24-7, then it’s there responsibility. I don’t know why they’re getting treated any different than anybody else. It was their lack of maintenance that caused the derailment in the first place. … If that was a logging operation in this area and they were tracking mud on to the road, they’d have to have somebody out there with a shovel and a broom and maybe a fire trailer rinsing it off. They have soybean meal scattered everywhere and they haven’t made any attempt at all to keep it clean. The trees down there are as white as this ceiling. … The whole operation has been a joke. Are we going to just let the railroad run over us? If that was anybody else in the county, you’d have them in jail.”
County Commissioner Frank Gordon said he’s been frustrated at the pace of the cleanup, as well. He noted he had a safety concern about the cleanup and contacted state Labor & Industries officials, but was told the state agency “had no control over the railroad.”
“I’ve gone so far as to send letters to the governor,” Gordon said. “We have no say. Absolutely zero. … It’s a filth hole. I’m absolutely embarrassed.”
County Commissioner Wes Cormier said he also tried to get the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, which monitors smells, to take a look at the foul odor permeating the derailment site. Cormier sits on the state agency’s board.
“They don’t have any regulatory power over it either,” Cormier said.
Cormier added after the meeting, “It’s been frustrating.”
Vidette Reporter David Haerle contributed to this story.