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Caering for the Mississippi River

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The Exxon Valdez oil tanker ship ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska in 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the water. The spill destroyed 1,300 miles of coastline and killed hundreds of thousands of fish, birds and other animals. It was the worst oil spill in U.S. history at the time.

The incident exposed failures in the petroleum industry’s ability to respond to a spill - because the area didn’t have any equipment to contain the oil, it spread for months. U.S. Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) in 1990, which made companies financially responsible for cleaning up spills in addition to mandating contingency plans in the event of one.

CP’s mainline runs adjacent to the U.S.’s largest river, the Mississippi, from Minneapolis to Muscatine, Iowa. Industry along the river include grain products, fertilizer, chemicals, metals and petroleum products, all transported by the railway. Protecting the Mississippi from spills and contamination is incredibly important.

“The Mississippi River is a major source of drinking water and recreation for numerous communities,” said Thomas Short, Acting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Superfund Director. “The river is home to numerous environmentally sensitive areas including threatened and endangered species and national wildlife refuges along with state wildlife and natural areas.” Sub Area Contingency Plans developed along the Mississippi River Corridor in conjunction with the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association identified where resources in spill response were limited.

“In addition to ensuring a rapid and effective response to oil and hazardous materials spills, the EPA places a high value in helping the natural resource trustees protect the most vital resources at risk,” said Short.

Along the river in multiple counties, Community Awareness and Emergency Response (CAER) organizations have joined forces to protect people and the environment if there’s an oil spill whether it’s from planes, trains or automobiles – a model that’s unique in Minnesota but being replicated across the country.

“We have an obligation to be a good steward of the environment and protect the communities we operate in” – Dale Buckholtz

“CP was instrumental in getting Red Wing CAER started,” said Darwyn Tri, Chair Red Wing CAER. “CP donated equipment, sponsored contractor time to participate in and enhance the CAER group, and continues to be a strong supporter in starting new CAER groups in other locations on the Mississippi River system.”

Combining resources across industry allows for quicker and more effective containment and cleanup of a spill. In 2008, the company realized that CP’s assets, as well as private and public assets, were limited regarding spill response and we needed to find a solution.

“CAER group membership allows CP to better protect the community in areas where there are limited public and private resources,” said Dale Buckholtz, CP’s Manager, System Emergency Response. “If an incident occurs along the river, CAER groups are able to respond with all of the required equipment provided to it by the member organizations.“

Membership in CAER groups gives us access to local emergency response support and equipment that would typically not exist in these extremely rural and remote areas. CP benefits from faster response that reduces the impact to the community and the environment in the event of an incident.

“We have an obligation to be a good steward of the environment and protect the communities we operate in,” said Buckholtz. “CAER groups reduce the risk of impacting property and the environment through training, emergency response assets, mutual aid and relationship building with first responders along sensitive transportation corridors.”

In addition to CP’s support for CAER groups, we also have a network of equipment strategically located in high traffic areas. A cache of HazMat equipment including 12 foam trailers, four transfer trailers, three command trailers and boom containers is stored in 16 different locations and supports a network of contractors qualified to use the equipment at a moments’ notice. Partnerships with organizations like CAER support our ability to effectively respond to incidents, ensuring silt deposits is the only thing mudding the waters of the Mississippi.

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