E-mail Story   Print Story
  Comments (0) Total Thursday Apr. 24, 2014
 
New River Park Caps BNSF Cleanup in Whitefish
Railroad, city dedicate new river access site following clean up
Whitefish business leaders along with city and BNSF Railway officials make their way up the recently landscaped park area along the Whitefish River. BNSF Railway and the City of Whitefish recognized the completion of the Whitefish River cleanup with a public ceremony and dedication of Whitefish Landing, a new public park and non-motorized river access point. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
BNSF Railway dedicated a new boat landing along the Whitefish River on Aug. 1, marking the completion of a four-year environmental cleanup of the waterway. The river project was one of the most visible parts of what has become a decades long cleanup of the Whitefish rail yard and surrounding area.

In coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency and Montana Department of Environmental Quality, BNSF remediated 1.5 miles of the Whitefish River near its rail yard and downtown. Since 2009, the railroad has removed 26,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and backfilled it with rock.

The new Whitefish Landing includes a canoe and kayak launch and a grassy area that connects with the river trail. The BNSF Foundation also gave the city a $25,000 grant for improvements to the park in the future.

“The Whitefish Landing will be a valuable treasure for locals and visitors alike,” said Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh. “This shows that when people come together and work together, that they can do great things.”

According to Montana DEQ project manager Jessica Gutting, the state environmental agency and the EPA began studying the industrial contamination in and around the Whitefish rail yard in the 1970s, when it was owned by the Great Northern Railway and later the Burlington Northern. The rail yard and sections of the Whitefish River were designated a state superfund site and in the years since, the railroad has worked with agencies to clean the area. It also installed an interceptor trench between the rail yard and the river to block contaminants that might be moving through the ground.

According to BNSF Railway General Director of Environment Allen Stegman, much of the contamination in the rail yard comes from decades of fueling and maintaining diesel locomotives.

“Over the years, the standards of care of evolved … people have a better understanding of their impact on the environment,” Stegman said. “Twenty-years ago, people might change their oil and just dump it. Well now, no one would ever do that.”

Another contamination in Whitefish, along Mackinaw Bay, occurred in July 1989 when a freight train derailed along the lake. Four tank cars slid down the embankment and leaked fuel into the water. The initial cleaning focused on the embankment and visible petroleum on the water. In 2011, reports of contaminated sediment emerged and BNSF and EPA conducted another cleanup during the summer of 2012.

In 2007, the EPA investigated petroleum sheen on the Whitefish River. After taking samples in the area, it ordered BNSF to clean the river along the rail yard. In 2009, work began removing contaminated sediments adjacent to the railroad facility. Early on, the railroad rerouted and drained short portions of the river so the soil on the river bottom could be excavated and sent to a certified landfill. In 2011, contractors started using a hydraulic dredge that could vacuum up sediments without draining the river. After the contaminated sediment was removed, it was replaced with river rock. The project wrapped up this summer and the DEQ is taking water and sediment samples for a final risk assessment, according to Gutting.

“As we were finishing the work, we realized it would make a great canoe and kayak launch,” Stegman said. “We thought it was a nice way to finish the project and thank the community for their patience.”

On Aug. 1, a small dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony was held at the new landing. Along with Lt. Gov. Walsh and BNSF officials, Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld and representatives of Montana’s Washington D.C. delegation attended the event. Muhlfeld said the boat launch provides some much needed additional access points to the Whitefish River.

“It’s exciting,” Muhlfeld said. “BNSF has been a great partner to work with and the end result is fantastic.”

While the river cleanup is wrapping up, BNSF and the DEQ is shifting its attention to the rail yard itself. Gutting said the environmental investigation of the entire rail yard will wrap up this summer. With that information, the railroad and DEQ will create a risk assessment to guide contractors in the eventual remediation.

Gutting said it’s hard to tell when the final rail yard cleanup would begin, but added that the completion of the river project shows that progress is being made.

“It’s always good to see the end of a project,” she said.
 
No comments have been posted for this article.

 
Kellyn Brown
Kellyn Brown11h
@kellynbrown
Former pro skier has plans for an academy for young adults looking to train in the outdoors http://t.co/YFOI9pdVVf http://t.co/R8NCamjqUD
Dillon Tabish
Dillon Tabish6h
@djtabish
Young Lakers eager to prove themselves this legion baseball season http://t.co/0kqbOczmeK #mtscores http://t.co/D5jukSZQJt
Molly Priddy
Molly Priddy7h
@mollypriddy
@Slate Jealousy?
Tristan Scott
Tristan Scott6h
@tristanscott
@hike734 Thanks, Jake!
Flathead Beacon
FB Headlines5h
@flatheadbeacon
NRA Seeks Universal Gun Law at National Meeting http://t.co/774jGB5cYS