Separate Petroleum Cleanup Projects Begin on Whitefish Lake, River

By Beacon Staff

Crews are expected to begin removing diesel-contaminated sediment this week from Whitefish Lake, the result of a 1989 Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway freight train derailment that dumped some 25,000 gallons of fuel into Mackinaw Bay.

Cleanup occurred after the 1989 spill, but 20 years later, in the fall of 2009, a resident stepped onto the lakebed and noticed an oily sheen stirred up by his boot. The Whitefish Lake Institute conducted soil and water tests, and found hydrocarbons indicating that diesel contamination remained.

Environmental officials determined BNSF was responsible for further cleanup efforts, leading to the project expected to start up this week. As of last week, boats to be used in the cleanup were being inspected and prepared for launch.

Jennifer Chergo of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the cleanup, said a mechanical dredge mounted on a barge will excavate and remove about 400 cubic yards of sediment.

The sediment will then be transported by boat to trucks and taken to BNSF’s nearby property, where it will be dried along with contaminated sediment from a Whitefish River cleanup project. The sediment is then taken by train to a facility in North Dakota. Chergo said the Whitefish Lake project should be finished by the first week of July.

Meanwhile, the Whitefish River cleanup project is entering its fourth and anticipated final phase, with work slated to last from now “through August, at least,” Chergo said.

Using a hydraulic dredge, crews are removing petroleum-contaminated sediment from the river bottom. Studies have shown that the contamination is derived from BNSF’s fueling facility, located near the river. The rail company is responsible for conducting the cleanup under the Oil Pollution Act.

Chergo said work will be completed from just below Kay Beller Park hopefully to Spokane Avenue. Last year, progress was slowed considerably after crews ran into a number of mechanical issues with the dredge. A new dredge is being used this year.

“The new one should operate a lot better with fewer problems and they should be able to move a lot faster,” Chergo said.

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