When James Theer bought a house with his partner last October, they enjoyed watching the bald eagles and the view of hills across the Cowlitz River. About a month ago, though, the view was replaced by massive lumber and oil tanker cars parked on the old Weyerhaeuser Co. woods line, which passes between Theer's house and West Side Highway just north of Longview.
The couple tried for a month to contact the railroad owners, Patriot Rail Co., but the company didn’t move the rail cars until Friday, shortly after being contacted by The Daily News. It’s not clear whether the cars, which were moved farther south behind a screen of trees and a steep hill, will return.
“If I knew there were going to be stored there, we probably would have not bought the house. We like to barbecue a lot and we have family over … with those cars, it’s a distraction,” Theer said.
The 87-year-old rail line, owned by Patriot Rail Co. since 2010, made its last scheduled run on March 9. Since then, Patriot has used the double and triple set of tracks between Longview and Beacon Hill to store empty rail cars, but the lines has been used for parking rail cars for decades. The difference now is that there are a lot more, and they may stick around a lot longer as the neighborhood’s unwanted guests.
The line is considered active, so further storage will be “determined by business demand”, said Patriot Rail spokeswoman Maureen Donnelly. She added that “when positioning rail cars, consideration will be given to the business needs of the railroad as well as the concerns of local residents when possible.”
Theer was most worried by a line of black tanker cars labeled with DOT 1267 placards, identifying them as carrying petroleum or oil. Donnelly said the cars are empty, but Theer is worried about potential “residue” in the tanks being stored so close to West Side Highway.
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“I see a lot of logging trucks come across the highway. They’re going 45-50 mph,” he said. “What if something somehow hit one of these tanker cars and knocked it over and ruptured it?”
Generally, rail cars with hazardous substances can only be stored for two business days, according to federal regulations. However, the Federal Railroad Administration doesn’t regulate empty cars, or ones with potential residue.
Theer says the fact that rail cars were sometimes stored there wasn’t disclosed when he bought the house last fall. The railroad was active then. The previous homeowner was Amy Filippello, wife of Port of Longview Commissioner candidate Tony Filippello, who had purchased the home prior to their marriage in 2008. Tony Filippello said his wife provided Theer with the information about railroad that she knew at the time, based on information that Patriot Rail provided.
Theer’s neighbor Brandon Champagne, 35, said in addition to the cars being an eyesore, he worried about it would affect property values. He wondered why Patriot doesn’t store the cars farther south, where they moved them Friday. Whenever he or Theer contacted Patriot Rail, they were just told that the rail cars have been parked there since 1923 — well before homes were built there in the last couple decades.
“That almost 100 years ago, things change,” Theer said.