Try 1 month for 99¢
Northwest Iowa flooding

An early Friday morning BNSF train derailment south of Doon, Iowa, leaked some 230,000 gallons of oil into the Little Rock River. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds stopped near the site of the derailment Saturday to speak with local officials about the situation. 

DOON, Iowa -- Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds paid a visit Saturday to local authorities tasked with cleaning up some 230,000 gallons of oil that spilled into the Little Rock River near Doon early Friday morning from a derailed BNSF train. 

In an impromptu press conference held on a gravel road south of the incident command center in Doon, Reynolds said she is impressed with how various agencies and BNSF have cooperated in their response to the oil spill, as well as flooding that struck Rock Valley, Iowa, and other local communities. 

"They're working diligently to get that done," Reynolds said of efforts to get a temporary road built, so that equipment can reach the site to pull out the piled-up train cars and advance the cleanup. 

The governor issued a disaster proclamation Saturday for Lyon, Plymouth, Sioux and Woodbury counties in response to the flooding and the train derailment. 

Gov. Reynolds visits Doon

From left, Iowa Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg stands behind Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds as she speaks to the media during a visit to Rock Valley, Doon and Hartley on Saturday to talk with local officials about the damage wrought by recent flooding. The biggest concern was near Doon, where a train carrying hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil derailed and went into the floodwaters early Friday morning. 

Reynolds said the Iowa National Guard is "on call" and ready to go to the site if the need arises. 

"If they are requested, they're ready to go, but as of yet we've not had any requests," she said. She and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg also stopped at Rock Valley and Hartley as they surveyed the damage. 

BNSF spokesman Andy Williams said the cleanup and recovery were still in their early stages Saturday afternoon. Besides containing the oil, the company said they're trying to get a road built at the site so heavy equipment can reach the cars and eventually pull them out. It was not immediately clear how long that would take. 

"We have a number of folks on the ground, moving equipment, setting up booms, making sure the oil doesn't drift down the river to other populations," he said. "We're assessing the damage now." 

Williams said that stretch of the BNSF railroad will be out of commission for a while. Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources were at the site, as well as the Lyon and Sioux County Sheriff's Departments and a number of BNSF workers and contractors. 

The company reported later in the day that roughly 100,000 gallons of the 230,000 gallons of spilled oil had been contained, and that oil would be removed from the immediate area with oil-water separators. 

Officials downstream have begun to worry about the oil reaching their communities. Rock Valley Mayor Kevin Van Otterloo said the city's municipal wells will remain shut off due to the risk of oil pollution. The wells were initially shut off because of concerns with floodwaters. 

"We contacted the DNR, and they advised us to keep them off," he said. The DNR, EPA and BNSF will come to test the city's water within the next few days to determine if any petroleum has seeped into the wells. 

"We will monitor it very, very closely," Van Otterloo said. "We don't feel that our wells got affected at all, but we're not taking any chances." 

The city plans to drain and clean its wells and use a rural water system until testing shows its water is safe.

Rock Valley also closed its sports complex, which was submerged in the recent flooding, and Van Otterloo said he wants affirmation the ground at the facility was not contaminated by oil. 

"I'm going to demand that (BNSF) do a soil test out there, before I'll let any of our kids go out there and play softball or baseball or soccer," he said. 

The HJMJ mobile home park and the River Bend Campground remained flooded as of Saturday evening, Van Otterloo said, though he said there were no concerns of oil contamination at either place for the time being. 

"We were actually there with inspectors this afternoon. After looking at everything there, we feel that we do not have any oil in the campground and we do not feel that there's oil in the trailer court at this point," he said. "I'm going to demand some soil tests just to make sure." 

In Sioux City, where much of the municipal drinking water comes from the Missouri River, water plant superintendent Brad Puetz said the city is not presently worried about contamination.

At the time of the spill, the Iowa DNR worked with the city to avert any potential risk. 

"The request at that time was that we would go away from our wells that were the most river-influenced, so we did so," he said. "We kept the reservoirs full for the most part, just in case any of the oil were to make it down to Sioux City." 

Saturday morning inspections of the river yielded no sign that oil had made it to Sioux City, and the city's water division resumed normal operation. Puetz said the city is not currently worried that the oil slick will make it this far south. 

"I don't believe so, especially with the amount of dilution that would occur between here and the derailment," he said. 

Lyon County Sheriff Stewart Vander Stoep said he anticipates it will take a while before the effects of the potential petroleum pollution are fully mitigated. 

"This isn't something that's just going to be, in two or three days, be done," Vander Stoep said. "From what I'm gathering, this is going to be a year-long, 18-month event. Even though the initial cleanup may be done in two weeks." 

Despite worries on Friday about airborne oil pollution, Vander Stoep said the fumes coming from the spill may no longer be a major threat. All four nearby residents who were evacuated shortly after the spill have been told they can come home. 

"Yesterday we were pretty concerned about that, especially right after it happened, because there was a pretty good smell in the air," he said. "But they're telling me that, actually, with the wind the way it is now that this is better, because it's making things evaporate quicker and making sure that the fumes don't come around." 

The train was carrying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Stroud, Oklahoma, for ConocoPhillips.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Subscribe to Daily Headlines

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Copyright 2018 The Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Lifestyles reporter

Load comments