The Spreading Stain

The long, slow fight to clean up one of northeast's largest polluted sites

In fact, Canadian Pacific is currently involved in a separate legal battle to determine who is to blame for the presence of some nasty and persistent pollutants called chlorinated solvents on the eastern edge of Shoreham Yard. The railway is suing two former tenants, Ashland Chemical and Murphy Oil, that stored the chemicals on the site.

While that case lumbers toward a 2007 trial date, CP continues to drill monitoring wells and take soil borings. An effort to clean up diesel spills--which CP acknowledges probably came from its railroad operations--was aborted after consultants discovered the chlorinated solvents in the vicinity. The concern? That pumping out the diesel might somehow hasten the further spread of the other pollutants.

The need for appropriate caution aside, Rick Jolley, a hydrologist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, acknowledges that there have been tensions between CP and the MPCA about the speed of the cleanup on the east side of Shoreham. Concerned that litigation between the railway and its former tenants might lead to further delays, Jolley says, the MPCA considered placing the site in the state superfund program. Rather than have that happen, the railroad agreed to a binding schedule under which it must release a formal action plan next winter.

A pit stop on a toxic tour: Gayle Bonneville checks out the Shoreham Yards Roundhouse
Mike Mosedale
A pit stop on a toxic tour: Gayle Bonneville checks out the Shoreham Yards Roundhouse

In Gayle Bonneville's view, the new schedule constitutes a hopeful sign of progress. Still, she says, the bureaucracy of environmental cleanup is more complex and slow moving than she ever realized. "They have lots of lawyers who come to our weekly meetings," she says. "It looks very complex to us, and very slow to us. And we're wondering, 'Why doesn't this happen at a faster pace?' As a community person, I just keep thinking, Hurry up."

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