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After an Outlook editorial on Dec. 5, Union Pacific fires back regarding Fairview railroad bridge.

FILE PHOTO - Alex McDonald, son of Tom McDonald, surveys the area surrounding a Union Pacific railroad bridge crossing Fairview Creek.Union Pacific has responded to my Dec. 5 commentary, but we're no closer to knowing anything more about the long-term stability of the earthen foundation supporting the railroad bridge that spans Fairview Creek.

Here's a quick recap:

• Absentee owners of adjoining property discovered a beaver dam — approximately 50 feet long and 8 feet tall — at the base of the bridge (in the railroad right-of-way) in Fairview Creek earlier this year.

• A short time later Union Pacific removed the beaver dam, which had been in place for several years. And UP declared the bridge safe for train traffic.

• But concerns have been raised as to whether the railroad adequately inspected the earthen foundation that supports the bridge. The concerns surround the beavers, burrowing animals that conceivably could have weakened the embankment and undermined the bridge.

In the Dec. 5 commentary ("Union Pacific has some explaining to do"), I wrote about how I'd reached out to UP for a more detailed explanation of its inspection. Two weeks later, I hadn't heard from the railroad, and that's when I published my commentary.

Then, on Dec. 7, I received the following email from Justin E. Jacobs, director of media relations for Union Pacific Railroad.

MESSAGE FROM JUSTIN JACOBS

"Good afternoon! I wanted to follow up on a recent story I came across ("Union Pacific has some explaining to do") and hopefully provide some helpful information. My apologies for not calling, per the reference in the article, but the information below is lengthy, but hopefully is helpful.

Thanks in advance for looking at it and have a great day! Union Pacific's bridge safety initiatives start with more than 38,000 annual inspections ensuring the structural integrity of every bridge. Our team of nearly 600 bridge maintenance and inspection professionals works daily to inspect and maintain all bridges on our 32,000 mile network.

Inspectors carefully examine each bridge component looking for any potential defect or area where proactive maintenance and repair may be required. Special inspections are made in the case of severe weather, earthquakes, wildfires or other situations that may warrant an additional inspection. UP's bridge maintenance professionals perform proactive maintenance and repairs throughout the year and are led by a group of licensed civil engineers who supervise bridge-related work and processes.

The bridge referenced in the article was inspected at least 5 times in 2017. The bridge will continue to be inspected and maintained.

Additional information on UP's bridges and our detailed bridge inspection process can be found here — www.up.com/media/media_kit/bridge/index.htm#2."

LOOK FOR YOURSELF

If you open the aforementioned web link, which I encourage all of you to do, here's what you'll see: A description of the process for bridge inspections. You can even view nifty public-relations videos about bridge inspections and one that depicts Union Pacific employees as highly skilled and dedicated to their jobs. I have every reason to believe that's true.

But you won't read, hear or view anyone actually addressing the paramount issue: Did beavers burrow into the embankment below the bridge?

MY RETURN MESSAGE TO JACOBS

"Thank you for this response. In some ways, this is indeed helpful, and I appreciate the response. However, the information you have provided does not address the most important issue. Our concern is not about the condition or stability of the bridge itself — beavers don't chew on steel/concrete or burrow into steel/concrete. Our interest has been specific to the earthen foundation upon which the bridge stands. Because beavers burrow, it's conceivable that they burrowed into the ground below the bridge, thus undermining the bridge. 

Based on what you've provided, I have no reason to question the safety of the bridge itself. But you have not specified the lengths to which inspectors went to look for possible undermining of the bridge. Was their examination limited to a visual once over? Or did inspectors look for below-the-surface damage to the earthen foundation. Remember, the beaver dam was below the bridge for several years, giving those critters plenty of time to do what comes naturally. Specifically, please detail the lengths to which inspectors went to examine the earthen foundation below the bridge."

STILL WAITING

I volleyed this issue back into UP's court, so I guess I'll wait and see if they want to play this out any further. I'll keep you posted.

Steve Brown is publisher/executive editor of The Outlook, Sandy Post and Estacada News, part of the Pamplin Media Group. Reach him at 503-492-5119 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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