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Litter lingers from last year's train derailment into Clark Fork River

by MONTE TURNER
Mineral Independent | May 15, 2024 12:00 AM

On April 2, 2023, about two dozen Montana Rail Link freight cars derailed directly across from Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort on the Clark Fork River near Paradise. 

It happened early in the morning and by noon, Montana Rail Link had teams using the riverside of the resort as an incident command center analyzing, coordinating and communicating with media, residents and spectators. Four days later, the trains were running back on schedule. 

The after-action report indicated no injuries or evacuations were required and only a small amount of fuel escaped making the cleanup look spic-and-span from Highway 135.

This month, more than a year later, a discovery was made at the accident scene. 

“I pulled into the lower eddy with a client where the derailment was, just for fishing purposes and was anchored up on the eddy,” explained Mark Fuller, owner of Wild Montana Anglers, out of Coram. “I was looking down into the river and noticed just a ton of silver. So, I started looking around on the bank and up toward the (railroad) tracks and couldn’t help but notice at least a hundred crushed Coors Light cans and broken Blue Moon (beer) bottles strewn everywhere.” 

This was the first time that Fuller had fished this section of the river since the derailment and like others who know the location, it appeared to be just as it was before the accident when observed from the south side of the Clark Fork. 

“I got out of the boat and was able to fill up a trash bag and it didn’t really make a dent in what’s there,” he said. “Man, it looks like there was very little cleanup and there’s just a ton of debris still the on the river bottom coming up to the riverbank and up to the tracks.”

The derailment happened when Montana Rail Link was responsible for the tracks, but as of Jan. 1, 2024, the tracks became the property of BNSF Railway. 

Fuller alerted the Lolo National Forest, Back Country Hunters and Anglers, and the Flathead Trout Unlimited attempting to rally people to help clean the area up before high water as “that stuff’s going to get swept all the way down to Noxon,” is his concern. 

BNSF Railway was notified as well. 

Kendall Sloan, a BNSF spokesperson, said their crews were able to collect some of the trash last week after being notified.

"It sounds like there may have been some remaining in the water that they were unable to access so we will work with a contractor if needed to complete the cleanup," Sloan said.

Individuals and organizations who want to assist in the cleanup without permission from BNSF may be considered trespassing.

On the lighter side, Fuller said fishing is getting better. 

“There was a really good gray-drake hatch going on. So, mayflies are hot. The squalla hatch was through week before and was pretty spectacular.”