Cleanup from the bridge collapse/train derailment that occurred on June 24 between Reed Point and Columbus continues and cleanup crews are slowly working their way downstream from the site of the incident. Over the weekend, heavy equipment was spotted at a popular fishing access site between Laurel and Park City. You can follow the EPA's dashboard HERE. I was somewhat shocked to see that they're finding "tar balls" and "tar patties" up to 15 centimeters, as well as "tar mats" as large as 3 meters this far downstream.

Credit: Nikki Walker, used with permission
Piles of asphalt-contaminated rocks/sand in the Yellowstone River. Credit: Nikki Walker, used with permission

Remediation crews at Buffalo Mirage FAS.

Buffalo Mirage Fishing Access Site (commonly referred to as "Sportsmans") is a busy fishing/recreation area between Park City and Laurel. It's a popular spot for fishermen, boaters, swimmers, and floaters. My friend Nikki was there on Sunday (7/16) and shared the pictures and videos with us.

Credit: Nikki Walker, used with permission
Credit: Nikki Walker, used with permission

Two excavators and a small bulldozer were working in the river.

According to an update from the Environmental Protection Agency (dated 7/15), three teams are involved in the cleanup process. An assessment team that scouts the river and marks contaminated areas, a cleanup team, and a contaminant removal team that hauls off the contaminated soil/rocks/sand. The cleanup effort has been staged from the Holmgren Fishing Access Site, just east of Columbus. It's now headed closer to Billings.

Expect to see more cleanup efforts in the Billings area.

Much of the thick tar deposits are completely removed, bagged, and hauled off by boat, according to the press release. In cases where it isn't feasible to remove it all from the riverbed, the EPA wrote,

In areas where asphalt is observed but it isn’t feasible to remove the material, the cleanup crews will break the asphalt material up into smaller pieces and cover it with sand or soil to aid the natural breakdown process and reduce the risk of animals getting physically stuck.

As the cleanup moves downstream, the staging area will reportedly move to the Laurel Riverside Park launch area as its next base of operations. Approximately 26 boats and 100 workers are involved in the cleanup.

You can find the latest updates of river access closures due to the cleanup HERE. Officials have seemed to downplay the seriousness of the spill(s), but Montana Free Press reported up to 500,000 pounds of the tar-like asphalt ended up in the river.

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