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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Good news for Whitefish, Mont., Railroad District

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Property owners in Whitefish's Railroad District and east of the middle school received good news last week - lab results from 25 soil-borings revealed little or no contamination from underground diesel fuel plumes originating in the BNSF Superfund site, the Whitefish Pilot reports.

Using $50,000 in state grant money, the city hired Roger Noble and Applied Water Consulting, of Kalispell, to investigate the extent of the contamination after BNSF began acquiring properties last spring. Property owners grew increasingly concerned about declining real estate values and turned to the city for help.

Whitehall-based Enviro Probe Services was hired to make 18 direct-push soil borings in a three-block area south of BNSF's locomotive fueling facility. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality estimates as much as 110,000 gallons of diesel fuel remains underground on BNSF property, the result of more than half a century of spills at the fueling facility.

Another seven borings were made east of Spokane Avenue - one just north of the library, four between Kalispell and Columbia avenues and two more northeast of the intersection of Railway Street and Columbia Avenue. Two underground diesel fuel plumes, east and west of the depot, were caused by spills during Amtrak refueling operations.

Noble issued a 64-page report last week, accompanied by a lengthy volume of tables and laboratory results. With the exception of two borings that had very low levels of contaminants, all the borings showed non-detectable levels of contaminants.

"The laboratory results indicate that contaminant concentrations are well below DEQ risk-based screening levels," the report concludes. "It is therefore unlikely that any of the property owners will be required to undertake corrective action under state regulations.

The boreholes were drilled outside the BNSF Superfund boundary and sited to provide geographical coverage. The work took place last November. Two soil samples were taken from each borehole - above the water table and at the 'smear" zone - along with a groundwater sample.

The samples were stored in ice and shipped to Pace Analytical Laboratory, in Billings. The samples were analyzed for volatile petroleum hydrocarbons, indicative of gasoline and solvents, and extractable petroleum hydrocarbons, indicative of diesel fuel.

All soil groundwater samples showed non-detectable levels of contaminants with the exception of two boreholes in the Railroad District - on the north side of First Street just east of O'Brien Avenue and on the west side of Lupfer Avenue midway between First and Railway streets. Both of those findings were well below the DEQ's risk-based screening levels, the report states.

The study also looked at groundwater flow and soil type. Groundwater flowed south at a low gradient, and the soil was silty-clay with layers of sand about 6-8 feet below the surface, where groundwater was predominant.

"These type of glacial lakebed sediments are typical on the valley floor throughout the Whitefish area," the report stated.

Meanwhile, cleanup work on the Whitefish River ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency has halted for the winter. That work is not conducted as part of the state Superfund designation but under the federal Oil Pollution Act.