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Workers are recovering asphalt material this week in a follow-up to a train derailment in south central Montana

Black oil-based asphalt material covers a stick on a Yellowstone River beach covered in rocks
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
A splotch of asphalt material from a Montana Rail Link train that derailed in June this summer. Photo taken on the Yellowstone River on July 20.

Workers starting Wednesday, October 11 are on private land along the Yellowstone River picking up oil-based asphalt material washed ashore from a June train derailment in south central Montana.

Unified Command, which consists of Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Montana Rail Link, Stillwater County Disaster & Emergency Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, says workers are targeting river miles 21 to 35 located in Stillwater County roughly between Columbus and Park City.

Coordinator Joni Sandoval with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says water levels are too low to navigate boats safely, so a crew of around 15 people are walking through private land and cleaning up by foot.

“We also have a side by side and ATV that we’re loading anything that we pick up and we put in a trash bag, and we’re putting it in on the ATV and then sort of hauling that back to some of the trucks that we’ve mobilized to the site,” said Sandoval.

She said a private landowner and responders with the Montana Natural Resource Damage Program in recent weeks identified several locations in need of possible cleanup, which led to the recovery of an added 3,600 pounds of asphalt material.

“So, Unified Command saw that as a success and attributes some of that to A) access to private land that we didn’t have before, as well as B) the river levels dropping even farther, a couple of more feet, since the last time we were out here,” said Sandoval. “And so, we just felt like that warranted having a larger team come out and scout while the weather was holding.”

Sandoval said continued cleanup efforts to complement maintenance recovery will depend on weather conditions, how much waste workers collect and landowner permission for access.

In a news release, a spokesperson says Unified Command will perform additional shoreline assessment and cleanup this fall, with more planned in the spring. Workers to date have recovered roughly 56 percent of more-than 419,000 pounds of asphalt estimated to have spilled into the river.

Unified Command asks members of the public to report asphalt material to

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.