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News / Business / Clark County Business

Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad ordered to comply with water pollution laws

Its owner says county responsible for stormwater issue

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 27, 2024, 6:09am

The operator of a 33-mile railroad through Clark County continues to run afoul of state environmental regulations. On Monday, the Washington State Department of Ecology ordered Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad to comply with state water pollution laws.

Ecology found the railroad had unlawfully discharged polluted material into state waters, according to the agency’s administrative order. The violation occurred Dec. 6 when stormwater runoff was discharged from two parcels owned by the railroad near Northeast 72nd Avenue and Curtin Creek, the order states.

“Clark County Public Works collected a sample of the runoff. … The sample included measurable turbidity,” the order states.

Turbidity is a measure of water clarity. Cloudy or hazy runoff indicates the presence of pollutants.

“The runoff discharged directly into a wetland area adjacent to Curtin Creek,” according to Ecology.

Additionally, Ecology’s order states Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad did not have the required permit for the stormwater runoff.

Federal, state and local authorities have ordered the railroad to cease and prevent all unauthorized discharges into state waters and stop all unpermitted work. Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad must also apply for a construction stormwater permit no later than April 25.

Other requirements of the administrative order include a site logbook, weekly site inspections, and water quality monitoring and testing.

The railroad remains under investigation by Ecology, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Clark County over alleged violations related to construction activities at the Curtin Creek property and at the railroad’s Chelatchie Rail Yard property.

Following site visits in October and November, the railroad was ordered to cease all expansion activities along the entire rail line until the investigations are complete.

Eric Temple, president of Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad, says the county, not the railroad, is to blame for the stormwater runoff. His company has a contract to operate on the county-owned rail line.

“There are ditches along the railroad. In our contract with Clark County … the county is responsible for maintaining those railroad ditches. They did not do so,” Temple said Tuesday.

Temple said those ditches haven’t been regularly maintained for many years. At the same time, new development has been popping up all along the rail line. Those new developments sometimes feed the ditches along the rail line, increasing potential stormwater runoff, Temple added.

“We went in and cleaned out the ditch because over the years sediment builds up,” he said.

It was that work to clean out the ditches that led to the turbid runoff, he said.

“That was the origin of the problem,” Temple added.

Temple said he has asked Ecology for further information on the location and nature of the stormwater violation in hopes of clarifying what happened and how the stormwater runoff was affected.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.