BNSF continues cleanup related to diesel sheen in Whitefish River

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BNSF Railway has been working in the Whitefish River and at the Whitefish Landing river access site related to a petroleum sheen in the river. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

BNSF Railway is continuing cleanup work in the Whitefish River this week.

Work related to a petroleum sheen spotted in the river has been ongoing at the Whitefish Landing river access point this summer.

“Following initial work to remove contaminated soils, BNSF determined that additional work to remove shoreline soils was the most appropriate course of action,” said Maia LaSalle with BNSF. “It will be necessary to install a temporary barrier, called a bladder dam, along a section of the river edge to remove the material adjacent to the river.”

Installation of the bladder dam was expected to occur on Wednesday, Sept. 18 with excavation of the shoreline continuing on Thursday. The bladder dam is expected to be removed on Friday.

Environmental engineers prepared the site recently for installation of the bladder dam, according to BNSF, that is expected to allow for excavation in a drier environment on the shoreline to ensure a more thorough cleanup. River bottom rock has also been removed to allow for the work and will be replaced once the shoreline has been restored.

During previous work, BNSF removed soils from the site contaminated with what’s assumed to be diesel for testing and disposal.

The park, sandwiched between the river and the city’s bike path, just west of the intersection of Miles Avenue and Railway Street is near the BNSF roundhouse.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality in July received a citizen complaint of a petroleum sheen in the river and work to investigate the issue mobilized the first week of August. The sheen was reportedly about 20 feet in length and about 15 feet off shore from the public access point.

BNSF says it continues to work closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DEQ during the cleanup process. The railway owns the property, but a long-term lease with the City of Whitefish was established to maintain public access to the river.

Before work began, BNSF says it used GPS to map vegetation at the Whitefish Landing.

“We will work closely with the city on restoration efforts to restore the area,” LaSalle said.

A major cleanup of the Whitefish River was completed by BNSF in 2013 involving the excavation of petroleum-contaminated soils in the river. BNSF removed more than 26,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and backfilled it on more than 1.5 miles of the river during the effort.

The BNSF rail yard is designated as a state superfund site with soil and groundwater contamination by petroleum products, chemicals and heavy metals. DEQ continues to conduct a risk assessment of the site that will ultimately determine future cleanup of the rail yard.

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