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Ashland Railroad Yard Cleanup

The Ashland Railroad Yard is a vacant 20-acre parcel owned by Union Pacific near downtown. In February 2017, DEQ approved Union Pacific Railroad’s plan to begin cleanup at the site to remove most of the contamination and enable Union Pacific to sell all, or a portion, of the property if it chose to. The bulk of the work, which would have involved excavating about 18,700 cubic yards of contaminated soil, was supposed to begin in the summer of 2018.

Union Pacific is part of DEQ’s Voluntary Cleanup Program. Under the program, DEQ provides oversight to property owners and others wishing to investigate and clean up hazardous substance sites in a voluntary, cooperative manner.
Since DEQ approved the cleanup plan, a number of things have changed.
In 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency updated its standards for benzo-a-pyrene, which is one of the main contaminants in the soil at the Ashland Railroad Yard. Benzo-a-pyrene is one of a number of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a type of chemical that is found in coal and petroleum products and can be formed when coal, oil or gas are burned. Other contaminants in the soil on the site include lead, arsenic and a type of thick fuel commonly called Bunker C.
Union Pacific notified DEQ in December 2017 that it planned to withdraw its cleanup plan in light of the new standards. DEQ agreed that the updated standards would change the requirement for cleanup for benzo-a-pyrene contamination. Under the new standards, there are no unacceptable site risks for benzo-a-pyrene that would require cleanup, assuming that the site remains a single 20-acre property. However, DEQ believes that there may be unacceptable site risks from other site contaminants, including lead, arsenic, and Bunker C.
Because Union Pacific withdrew the 2016 cleanup plan, DEQ would not decide on final cleanup requirements for the Ashland railyard until after Union Pacific takes additional soil and groundwater samples and re-evaluates environmental risks using the updated standards and considering potential future uses of the property.
DEQ will inform the local community and key stakeholders about the details of the approved work plan before sample collection begins.

History of the site

The railroad yard was operated by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company between 1887 and 1986 as a locomotive fueling, maintenance, and railcar repair facility near downtown Ashland. Most buildings were removed from the yard in the 1980s. A small portion of the railroad yard is currently leased to the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad and is used on occasion for switching and storing railcars.
Environmental investigations in the 1990s revealed that soil and groundwater in portions of the railroad yard are contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, lead and arsenic. Contaminant levels in some areas of the property are higher than DEQ’s cleanup standards for human health if the property were to be developed for residential or commercial uses.
In 2006, Union Pacific proposed to excavate about 35,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil to meet DEQ’s criteria for unrestricted residential use. DEQ did not approve the 2006 plan due to concerns raised by many Ashland residents about the use of trucks to haul contaminated soil on city streets. In 2013, Union Pacific submitted a new cleanup plan that called for excavating about 18,700 cubic yards of soil and using railcars to haul the contaminated soil to an approved landfill. Union Pacific delayed implementation of its cleanup plan until Ashland modified a deed restriction on the property, which it did in 2016. 

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