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Crude Oil Tankers Parked in Milwaukee Neighborhood for Months, Community Demands Answers

Marti Mikkelson
Neighbors gathered on Wednesday to protest crude oil rail cars parked in the 30th Street corridor.

Several hundred tanker cars are parked in a north side Milwaukee neighborhood. They’ve been there for months, and neighbors are afraid the cars could explode.

Rail officials insist the tankers contain only crude oil residue and pose no danger. Yet, community activists demanded action on Wednesday.

A couple dozen people crammed onto a narrow sidewalk near 35th and W. Capitol Drive. Behind them, a row of rail cars stretched over a bridge, as heavy traffic passed underneath. The cars are stamped with stickers reading Haz Mat crude oil.

Milwaukee NAACP President Fred Royal said he’s afraid the tankers pose a risk to the densely populated neighborhood.

Credit Susan Ruggles, Flickr
A couple dozen people gathered near 35th and W. Capitol Drive. Behind them, a row of rail cars stretched over a bridge.

“If you look at the condition of this bridge, it is beyond structural deficit," he said. "It is in dire distress that needs immediate repair. If you look a half a block down, there is the Hope Academy for Children. What is the radius of the potential blast zone for this potential hazard that they have parked in our community?”

Royal insisted there are better places to store the tankers.

“There’s a whole lot of rural community in Wisconsin. You can park them anywhere but in the city. Then we have the Menomonee Valley. Why do you have to put them in a central location, so close to property and human life?," he asked.

“One morning I woke up and there was a black wall behind my building,” Beth Sahagian said. She owns a business 50 feet from here and said the cars suddenly appeared a couple months ago. “The trains are so close that I can read the small print on the side of the train." 

Janette Herrera lives just around the corner and pointed to the bridge where the tanker cars are sitting.

“I’m here today because I’m concerned about the bridge alone because I have to go through here every single day and we’re in a flood zone and I know that more water makes things deteriorate. I’m fearful because I don’t know what’s all in those tanks," she said.

Herrera is one of several neighbors who signed a letter of concern. It called on the Federal Railroad Administration and the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad to conduct air sampling and assess the potential for leakage of oil.

A spokesman for the FRA told WUWM that the agency has inspected the tanker cars and found them virtually empty, with no potential of harming the public.

Despite those assurances, the NAACP’s Fred Royal said he’s in contact with Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Sen. Tammy Baldwin to get more answers about the tankers. There are about 300 of them. He planned Wednesday’s gathering on the third anniversary of a crude oil train derailing and explodingoutside Montreal – killing nearly 50 people. The train had passed through Milwaukee.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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