Gorge Commissioners Uphold Wasco County Commission’s Denial of Rail Expansion Project

Gorge Commissioners Uphold Wasco County Commission’s Denial of Rail Expansion Project
The community of Mosier, OR, seen from Mosier Plateau. (photographer: Paloma Ayala)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Contact: 
Burt Edwards, Friends of the Columbia Gorge | 971.634.0595 |
burt@gorgefriends.org
 
Tribes, Conservation Groups Applaud Columbia River Gorge Commission Decision on Proposed Union Pacific Mosier Rail Expansion
Commissioners vote to uphold Wasco County Commission’s decision to deny Union Pacific's proposed rail expansion project.
 
THE DALLES, OR – The Columbia River Gorge Commission (Gorge Commission) decided Tuesday to deny Union Pacific Railroad's appeal of the Wasco County Commission's November 2016 decision rejecting a proposed 4.02-mile rail expansion project near and within Mosier, Oregon. The Gorge Commission also rejected Union Pacific’s arguments that it is exempt from the federal law that protects the Columbia River Gorge as a National Scenic Area. The commissioners issued their decision Tuesday afternoon after several hours of oral arguments from the parties.
 
Attorneys for Friends of the Columbia Gorge (Friends), Columbia Riverkeeper, and Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility argued at the hearing as parties to the appeal and urged the commissioners to deny the petition due to a combination of tribal treaty concerns, natural, scenic and recreation impacts on the Gorge, and objections from the City of Mosier. Union Pacific Railroad, Wasco County, and the Yakama Nation are also parties to the appeals. The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and Oregon Wild also participated in the case.
 
The commission's decision drew widespread praise from tribes and conservation groups at today's hearing:
 
  • Steve McCoy, Friends staff attorney: "We applaud the Gorge Commission's decision to deny Union Pacific's appeal today and protect the Yakama Nation’s tribal treaty rights. The City of Mosier is still recovering from last year's Union Pacific oil train derailment. Today's decision will help ensure that future rail traffic in the Gorge is managed both responsibly and safely."
  • Dr. Maria McCormick, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility: "The increase in number and speed of trains would bring significant risks to the health and safety of residents of Mosier and other vulnerable populations along the UP track. Our community has already suffered harm and should not assume additional risks of fire, polluted air and water, and loss of lives."
 
The City of Mosier is still recovering from the June 2016 Union Pacific oil train derailment, spill and fire that leaked 47,000 gallons of crude oil and contaminated groundwater in the small town. The Federal Railroad Administration released a report earlier this month finding that Union Pacific was at fault for the accident because it failed to adequately maintain its tracks.
 
The Gorge Commission will issue its written decision by early September. The decision can be appealed to the Oregon State Court of Appeals. Appellants will have 60 days after the written decision is issued to appeal.
 
 
BACKGROUND
 
Last November, the rail expansion was denied on a unanimous vote by the Wasco County Board of Commissioners due to adverse effects to the Yakama Nation’s tribal treaty rights and violations of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area land use ordinance.
 
Union Pacific appealed Wasco County’s denial of its rail expansion proposal and claimed that federal railroad laws preempt the National Scenic Area Act, which is also a federal law. Union Pacific also disputed the Yakama Nation’s treaty rights claims. The appeal was filed before the Columbia River Gorge Commission, which has review authority over all final county decisions within the National Scenic Area.
 
Union Pacific Railroad, Wasco County, the Yakama Nation, and Friends of the Columbia Gorge along with Columbia Riverkeeper, and Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility are parties in the appeals.  Non-party Friends of the Court participants include the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and Oregon Wild.
 
MEDIA COVERAGE

June 13, 2017: Oregon Public Broadcasting: Gorge Commission hears Union Pacific appeal of Mosier track expansion
June 13, 2017: KATU (Portland): Gorge Commission upholds denial of second set of Union Pacific tracks in Mosier
June 13, 2017: Associated Press (Seattle): Board affirms Oregon county’s denial of railroad expansion
June 14, 2017: Gorge Radio (Hood River and The Dalles, OR): Gorge Commission denies Union Pacific appeal
June 14, 2017: Portland Business Journal: Board upholds denial of Union Pacific's proposed Mosier track expansion
June 14, 2017: My Columbia Basin (Hermiston, OR): Denial of train track expansion upheld
June 16, 2017: Street Roots (Portland): Tribes score victories against Union Pacific, fossil fuel projects

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