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State review backs Railroad District testing

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Montana state officials have accepted the results of a study sponsored by the city of Whitefish of an underground diesel plume caused by spills at BNSF's locomotive fueling station in Whitefish, a Superfund site, the Whitefish Pilot reports. Using $50,000 in state grant money obtained by the city, Roger Noble and Applied Water Consulting, of Kalispell, investigated the extent of the contamination in Whitefish's Railway District and a neighborhood east of the middle school.

Eighteen direct-push soil
borings were made in a three-block area south of BNSF’s locomotive fueling
facility, and another seven borings were made east of Spokane Avenue. Lab
results from the 25 soil-borings revealed little or no contamination from the
underground diesel fuel plume, Noble reported in January.

The Montana Department of
Environmental Quality reviewed Noble’s work and found that levels of
extractable petroleum hydrocarbons, typically found in diesel fuel, and
volatile petroleum hydrocarbons, typically found in gasoline, were "well
below" risk-based screening levels.

"Based on the
analytical laboratory results, DEQ does not believe further action is warranted
at this time in the areas of the Railway District that were investigated for
your study," DEQ environmental science specialist Matthew Kent wrote the
city on Feb. 1.

Kent spoke to property
owners, city manager Chuck Stearns and concerned citizens at the Whitefish
Public Library on Feb. 25. He explained that detectable levels of contaminants
at two of the boreholes were likely the result of an old furnace-fuel tank and
gasoline spilled while refilling a lawnmower.

Kent was asked what could
be done to hasten a clean-up of the BNSF fuel facility, where as much as
110,000 gallons of diesel fuel remains underground. Talk turned to a
letter-writing campaign and even contacting federal officials overseeing
acquisition of BNSF by Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway.

Talk also turned to the
Environmental Protection Agency’s mandated clean-up of the Whitefish River.
Kent explained that the EPA was operating under the authority of the Oil
Pollution Act, which focuses on oil sheen visible on the surface and enables
the EPA to act more quickly, which he said was "a good thing."

BNSF’s environmental
consultants, Kennedy/Jenks, recently completed sampling and analysis plans for
the upper and lower reaches of the Whitefish River, from north of the
railroad’s red roundhouse building down to the JP Road bridge. Field
observations and sampling will focus primarily on the presence of
"observable" petroleum floating on the surface.

One location is along the
north shore of the river, where sediments were removed last year from behind a cofferdam
installed below the BNSF Loop bike trail. If sheen is detected along the
"cut face" in the shoreline there, and if directed by EPA, a narrow
test pit will be excavated perpendicular to the river up to the high-water mark
to see if petroleum exists underground "at sufficient saturation levels to
drain under the influence of gravity into the test pit," Kennedy/Jenks
said.

In the river’s lower reach,
down river of the Second Street bridge, the plan calls for sampling sediments
along the shoreline in 50- to 100-foot intervals or longer as the team proceeds
downstream. A hand auger or coring device will be used to disturb the sediments
up to 6-12 inches deep to see if a sheen forms on the surface. Twenty-five
locations, about 10 percent of the total, will be chosen for further
observation and laboratory analysis.

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