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Union Pacific Sues For Exemption To Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area Rules


An overhead shot of the wreckage from an oil train derailment and fire in Mosier, Ore., on June 4, 2016, the morning after the crash.

An overhead shot of the wreckage from an oil train derailment and fire in Mosier, Ore., on June 4, 2016, the morning after the crash.

Courtesy of the Washington Department of Ecology

Union Pacific Railroad is suing Oregon’s Wasco County and Columbia River Gorge commissioners in an effort to push through a proposed track expansion.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, the company asked a federal court to preempt a Wasco County ordinance that is blocking the company from expanding its track through the Columbia River Gorge.

The railroad says the 5-mile track expansion would remove a chokepoint for freight trains near Mosier. A second track would allow trains moving in opposite directions to pass one another without stopping.

“The Commissioners are now attempting to block this critical infrastructure improvement,” the company said in its complaint.

The railroad argues the court should preempt the county’s National Scenic Area Land Use and Development Ordinance because it “imposes an impermissible burden on interstate commerce.”

In November, Wasco County denied the company’s track expansion, citing the scenic area development ordinance and tribal treaty rights. Union Pacific has appealed that decision, and the appeal will be heard by the Columbia River Gorge Commission.

Environmental groups oppose the track expansion. They say the railroad should follow local rules – especially after one of its oil trains derailed near Mosier and caught fire last year.

“Columbia River communities are still reeling from the fiery oil train derailment on Union Pacific’s tracks,” Lauren Goldberg with Columbia Riverkeeper said in a statement. “Union Pacific’s profit-driven lawsuit won’t bully Gorge communities. Even the nation’s biggest railroad must submit to federal laws and treaties with Indian nations.”

Columbia River Gorge Union Pacific oil trains

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